The Beehive Wins In 1938, And Crowdsourced Curators Keep Going

WPA / Section Mural, Russellville AL Post Office
This is the 1938 WPA / Section fresco, ‘Shipment of First Iron Produced in Russellville’ by Conrad Albrizio (the only such post office fresco in Alabama) at the downtown post office in Russellville, Alabama.

There was a big to-do about the subject of this work, as the Section had approved the artist to work on a piece featuring a rock quarry — which the artist had also chosen, when Senator Bankhead and other citizens stepped in to have this particular subject with the beehive oven (the first in the state was built in this area) completed.

One interesting part about the article that was written in the 80s was that in the 30s, “the heart of the controversy was the question: should the government, the public, or the painter decide the subject of a work of art?”.

I imagine that question has gone on for as long as the public has supported the arts.  Right now, some museums are displaying interest in crowdsourcing their collections, leaving curators somewhat out of the picture.  The Plains Art Museum in ND wrote:

Ever heard the expression “two heads are better than one”? Well, when it came time to curate an upcoming exhibition at the Museum, we took that idea to a logical extreme by giving the big decisions to you and others like you, allowing our community to vote and handpick pieces from the Museum’s permanent collection for display.

The exhibition, titled You Like This: A Democratic Approach to the Museum Collection, utilized the phenomenon of crowdsourcing (outsourcing a task to a large group of people) to narrow the 3,500 objects in the Museum’s permanent collection down to 50 for display.

…It’s been a fun process, made more so by the thrill of uncertainty.

The first half of this year, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis ran an exhibit entitled, “50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection” in which:

…50/50 is at once an experiment in crowd curation and an exploration of the Walker’s collection, with each of the two sections filling half the gallery space. This shared exchange sparks a range of questions about the dynamics between “audience” and “expert,” or between curatorial practice and so-called “mass taste.” It also touches on a broader contrast between the act of making aesthetic judgments in an online context and the experience of looking at and thinking about art up close, without time constraints.

In 2007, the Kemper in KCMO had their “Putting the U Back in Curator” exhibit when they invited “random willing visitors to participate in the curatorial process” and in 2008, the Brooklyn Museum did this with their “Click!” exhibit when they invited museum visitors, the general public, and people online to participate.  Apparently the museum board was pleased with the outcome, because they are now showing ‘Split Second’ in which they asked their online community to help again with choosing pieces to exhibit, and it’s also much more than that, thanks to its Malcolm Gladwell ‘Blink’ component (all about that here).

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