Thursday, August 19, 2010

Take a Seat: Beautiful, Casual Areas at the Taiwan National Museum of Fine Arts

When I was in Taiwan, I heard again and again from museum professionals: "We are very conservative in Taiwanese museums. We're not doing innovative things with visitor participation or Web 2.0. Everyone is so focused on everything looking perfect and the curator's voice only."

This may be true. I didn't see a single comment book on my trip. But I did see something that inspired me quite a lot: a gorgeous, innovative setting for visitors to sit, chat, explore art, and rest.

This post is a photo essay focusing on an area at the Taiwan National Museum of Fine Arts called the Digiark. The Digiark is a connected but separate building that showcases media art.

The Digiark is big--about 4000 square feet--and designed with a meandering, casual experience in mind. I was told that media-based art is fairly new to Taiwanese people and that the museum wanted to introduce visitors to it in a relaxed, friendly setting. The space was sparsely attended during the couple of days when I visited, and primarily by teenagers and families. I think its distance from the main building affected its attendance; a shame considering everything it had to offer.

Walking in, you are not bombarded with art. The current show was about "hyper perception," but the five (quite good) new media pieces were dwarfed by the space itself. Instead of a traditional gallery, you see plywood benches, recycled water jugs, whimsical light fixtures, and lots of nooks where you can explore books, computers, and projection-based artworks. The look blends funkiness with clean lines, industrial space with natural light.

The nooks have lovely seating areas with views out the window to the beautiful garden plaza that separates the main building from the Digiark. In this image, you can see part of a sound installation that winds throughout the whole space. Put your ears to an orange tube and you will hear the sounds of people throughout the gallery, echoed and time-delayed. It's a form of "hyper perception"--the theme of the current exhibition.

It's not all perfect-looking, intentionally. While the nooks were designed to showcase clean lines and natural materials, they don't hide the parts that make the technology work. I liked being able to sit on a couch and "spy" on the kids using the computer on the other side of the wall. Overall, the low walls, slatted wood, and open nooks invited intimacy with the work without closing people off from each other--good for socializing and chaperoning.

The Digiark was also designed cleverly for flexible use. Most of the walls have a swinging apparatus that allows them to lock into at least two different positions. This is especially useful given that many times they have to enclose projection works of different sizes into darker nooks. It also has a nice aesthetic, contributing both to the industrial feel and creating a sense that the walls are floating.

There were signs telling people not to sleep, but some still found the time to kick back and enjoy a restful break between exhibitions.

And with a view like this, who can blame them?

The whole Digiark experience was permeated by a sense of leisure, of slowing down. It reminded me of the restorative feeling of being at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art north of Copenhagen, and it made me wonder: how many kinds of artwork would be more fruitfully enjoyed in a relaxed setting with couches and natural light? I find it fascinating that the Digiark is focused on media art--work that is often placed in the blackest of black boxes, and is often more full of multi-sensory, active stimulation than works produced with more traditional media. I would love to explore traditional artworks in this kind of environment as well. Relax, enjoy, learn, think, talk, relax. Leave refreshed instead of wiped out. Maybe this is why people love sculpture gardens so much.

What do you think?

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