That’s Infotainment! Virtual Pedagogy and Instagram Populism in the Museum

  • 2016-04-15
  • New Criticals

Dorothy Howard and Felix Bernstein are artists who straddle the line between museum and academic work (performances, lectures, classes) and biting critique. Howard has been recently producing online zines and doing workshops in museums and libraries and Bernstein’s most recent performance at the Whitney museum worked with and against queer pop themes. Here, they chart a symptomatology of contemporary pressures and limitations around the use of social media, digital labor, performative partying, and queer fashion in museums. Showing that one way to confront art’s seasonal expectations is to acutely analyze its myopic particulars.

The rise to prominence of hybrid and online learning in museum education departments is the latest attempt to delay decreased relevance in the digital age--and to furnish what Boris Groys calls the institution’s common project: resisting “material destruction and historical oblivion.” Education departments are good for public image. Such programming tempers the assumed institutional elitism of Haute bourgeois spectators and critics and corporate sponsorship appears tempered. But the progressive educational tech-savvy have added new charisma to the museum; enter new curatorial styles that utilize crowdsourcing and Instagram #selfie populism, key tactics to produce blockbuster shows that emphasize democratized access to a newly interactive, queer, hybrid, art space. Trouble is, when you aestheticize community behind fashionably closed doors, you run into the commerce and hierarchies that come from the gap between the promises of a “world wide” web of inclusion.

“Museums have experienced a real paradigm shift in that the core functional model of a museum has expanded to incorporate publishing and broadcast as well as locative experience,” says cultural information specialist Nick Poole on the public Museum Computer Network listserv. Echoing for-profit online universities, museum courseware has the remedial goal of “filling in the gaps” of public education—making the case for art’s utility as an interdisciplinary field that can co-exist with STEM education and digital humanities lessons; see the MoMA Courses Online / MoMA on Demand.” The description of an recent Coursera course, co-led by Duke professor Pedro Lasch, and Creative Time curator Nato Thompson asks: “Can a MOOC be a work of art?” promising to take advantage of the global Massive Open Online Course. Museums are only a small peg in a new industry of cultural educational technology. For-profit online degrees and open source learning are becoming a standard part of the Western educational landscape; at the very same time that funding is being slashed for the humanities and arts communities.