Authored by Rebecca Meng
Experiments in Electrostatics: Photocopy Art from the Whitney’s Collection, 1966–1986 is an exhibit on display in the Susan and John Hess Family Gallery at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This gallery serves as the entrance space to a theater for museum events, an education room, and an employee office area. The narrow gallery presents artwork to visitors who are exiting the elevators and moving from one functional area to the next, but for museum-goers who are not attending an event in the theater or a class in the education room, it would be easy to miss this exhibit since it is not in one of the full-floor galleries. Luckily, the Whitney’s efforts to draw visitors to the exhibit extend beyond the walls of the gallery.
It is not surprising that art museums make use of Instagram as a social media platform to showcase collections and connect visually with an audience. The Whitney’s official account does just that. A post featuring a photo of Lesley Schiff’s work in the exhibit offers a lengthy description of the artist’s process in creating photocopy art (Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018). The caption also tags Schiff’s personal account, where there are additional photos of the exhibit at the Whitney and more examples of her work (Schiff, n. d.). Linking directly to the artist’s page (where she actively posts) and employing hashtags associated with the artist encourages users to engage further with items in the collection and view them in a larger creative context.
Visiting the museum in-person, dynamic signage outside and inside the building employ images from exhibitions on screens to grab attention as well as provide information such as floor and room location, serving as a dynamic directory. These screens provide a sense of immediacy to visitors who know that the information they are looking at is up to date and accurate. After entering the exhibit via the central elevators, wall text and exhibit labels provide information about Experiments in Electrostatics and the individual works. Although the Whitney provides an audio guide to some works in their collection, items in this exhibit are not included in the audio tour.
While the Whitney’s efforts on Instagram show a promising start to outreach beyond the traditional curator-written exhibition summaries, it is clear that one post is not a dedicated strategy and more could be done to reach digital audiences. In order for museums to stay relevant, they must adapt to user behaviors (Freeman et al., 2016, p. 22). Expanding a social media strategy that takes advantage of related content, such as Lesley Schiff’s own Instagram account, would enmesh the Whitney into a network of creators as well as consumers.
Meng, R. (Photographer). (2018, February 16). Exhibition [digital image].
Freeman, A., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., McKelroy, E., Giesinger, C., Yuhnke, B. (2016). NMC horizon report: 2016 museum edition. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.
Schiff, Lesley [@lesley_schiff]. (n.d.). [Instagram account] Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/Lesley_Schiff/
Whitney Museum of American Art [@whitneymuseum]. (2018, March 21). [Photograph of Lesley Schiff’s artwork] Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/BglXmIQgNRG/ ?hl=en&taken-by=whitneymuseum