July 31, 2016

Is the curatorial voice dead? 

In a Medium post, the developer of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s new app delivers a fascinating, data-rich rebuttal to the Wall Street Journal's critique of the SFMOMA's new audio tours which "feature a range of fascinating hosts, including high-wire walker Philippe Petit, Avery Trufelman from the 99% Invisible podcast, members of the SF Giants organization, and comedians from HBO’s Silicon Valley.” Get the app here.

The WSJ critic feels that “SFMOMA would do well to rely more consistently on its own curators for cogent, pungent audio commentary.”  

But the data shows that visitors are overwhelming more engaged with the new tours. The piece that the critic likes best, "a curator-led audio clip about Mark Rothko’s No. 14 1960… ties for last on this list in completion rate (i.e. how far people make it before they stop listening), which we’ve found to correlate strongly with what people like.”

It is akin to the long-running argument about exhibit labels. Certainly the curatorial voice will always matter. But isn’t it wonderful when it is overwhelmed by other voices with other ways of seeing thee world as appears to be the case here?