Thursday 10 December 2015

First they take 'curate' away from us ...

... and now it's 'museum' that's been filched by the marketers for their own nefarious practices.*^ The American media has been awash (where 'awash' means 'four articles I have read') with commentary on Glade's Museum of Feelings. From the official listing:

This holiday season, Glade® invites consumers to explore their emotions at The Museum of Feelings, an interactive experience built to showcase the beautiful connection between scent and emotion. Visitors will be taken on a sensory journey through the Museum, where Glade® fragrances act as the muse to inspire visitors to explore their emotions.

A series of five interactive light, sound and scent installation rooms lead the visitor to the gift store, where they can purchase Glade's new scented candle range.

The emotional tone of the commentary quivers between bemused and scathing. From the Village Voice:
Housed in a pulsating cube nestled between a luxury mall and a yacht harbor (just blocks from noted tourist attraction Ground Zero), this paean to...what, really?... is a confusing mix of ambient advertising and immersive art. ... 
The cube’s exterior changes color based on the mood of New York City, which (according to a press release put out by Glade® parent company SC Johnson) is determined by “the sentiment of conversations by New Yorkers on Twitter, coupled with local news and trends including the weather, stock exchange fluctuations and flight delays”. Evidently rage stroke coupled with crippling panic attack is a vibrant teal that undulates into fuschia.
From the NYT:
At the end of the exhibit, Ms. Santoro and Ms. Borghini, who work nearby, were shuffled through a gift store. There were no negative emotions on sale, perhaps because it might be difficult to sell a $9 envy-themed scented candle. 
The two friends were asked to stand in front of a large camera and take a selfie, which was then evaluated and tagged with an emotion. It took a few tries, but in the end, the machine returned its assessment: “Indifferent.”
Jared Keller in the Smithsonian Magazine undertakes a scholarly investigation of the marketing ploy. His headline, Fear and Loathing at the Museum of Feelings, might give you a hint of how that pans out:
Without some level of pedagogical logic and civic intent, is it simply an entertaining art installation, regardless of who foots the bill for its construction? In the eyes of historians like Ward, the Museum of Feelings represents a “clever attempt to conflate itself with something respectable.” 
To Ward, it’s indicative of a larger trend in American culture: a tendency to crowdsource art and culture, to turn things to the masses, in lieu of the careful (if elitist) curation of scholars and academics that imparts museums with the knowledge and sensibility that makes them worthy stewards of the title.“Instead of rationality and pedagogy, we’re getting something closer to a carnival,” says Ward. “There’s no demonstrably larger social significance running through a place like the [Museum of Feelings] … so why are they pretending it’s something it isn’t?”
Gotta love that 'simply an entertaining art installation': clearly, Jared has never tried and failed with a family-focused art exhibition. At the same time there's an effort in the article to untangle where corporate and philanthropic support of a museum meshes with the integrity of its programming.

My favourite piece is probably Dayna Evans for The Awl, kind of a Lena Dunham meets art review:
From the tiny screens of my computer and phone, art looks mostly dull, flat, and familiar, especially when it arrives via jpeg or tinyletter or Tumblr scroll. Only a few weeks before I first heard about the Museum of Feelings, I had ordered a new Rizzoli art book called Feelings: Soft Art, a collection of works by contemporary artists that explore the evocative emotions drawn out by visual art. In many ways, this book is drastically different from what the Museum of Feelings attempts to accomplish—which is, make millennials think Glade airspray is trendy and aware and worthy of use—but in some ways, it is not. When Cat and I tried to figure out how it was we even came to learn about the pop-up museum, we both realized that a lot of our more “arty” friends had said they were attending the Facebook event. It spread virally. We trusted those people’s tastes, so we decided to go. We never really thought to check if it was worthy of praise, or even exactly what it was. 
This is the same principle by which the casual museum attendee learns to namedrop Cézanne and Miró. MoMA is just as much sponsored content as the Museum of Feelings—they’re just sponsored by different power structures.
(Like the Village Voice, Evans identifies the James Turrell / Hotline Bling overtones to the installation's aesthetic, the ubiquity of which is possibly now even further emphasised by Pantone's 2016 Colour of the Year.)

It's all a long way away from Charles Simic's William and Cynthia, which I quoted from three years ago in a presentation where I talked about what I imagined when I thought about a museum of emotions:

Says she'll take him to the Museum
of Dead Ideas and Emotions.
Wonders that he hasn't been there yet.
Says it looks like a Federal courthouse
With its many steps and massive columns.

Apparently not many people go there
On such drizzly gray afternoons.
Says even she gets afraid
In the large exhibition halls
With monstrous ideas in glass cases,
Naked emotions on stone pedestals
In classically provocative poses.

Says she doesn't understand why he claims
All that reminds him of a country fair.
Admits there's a lot of old dust
And the daylight is the color of sepia,
Just like this picture postcard
With its two lovers chastely embracing
Against a painted cardboard sunset.

After all this reading, I remain curious about one question. How strong was the pull of that word 'museum'? Was it the selfies on Instagram that got New York's 20-somethings queueing for this experience, or does the word hold some special magic? I'd like to think the latter, in which case I am sure we will survive Glade's assault upon our ramparts, and live to fight in the culture wars on yet another day.

*I mostly joke here. Some of my best friends work in comms and marketing. Hell, I work in comms and marketing, and we're all shameless.
^Also, as I was discussing on Twitter tonight, 'curate' is arguably better understood now than it was before it was co-opted for everything from wardrobes to playlists to friend groups. Prior to that, who could've told you that curating has something to do with making informed selections and publicly presenting them?

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