The Metropolitan is really hitting hard with its new media efforts lately, coming out with an interesting project in conjunction with its Lod mosaic exhibition, as well as a new presentation called “Connections,” an online series of photo slideshows with audio featuring museum staff giving short presentations of pieces in the museum collection that fascinate them, based on a particular theme or idea. The videos are fun insights into the personalities of staff and the collection, but they could go deeper into the art objects that they present.
Collected in a nice interactive grid, the Met’s “Connections” splash page gives us a nice list of things to choose from. So far, we have “Small Things”, “Virtuosity”, “Maps” and “Tennessee” with “White” coming out January 11. A nice black and white portait of the lecturing staff member acts as a thumbnail for their presentation. The slideshows themselves take on the same format, audio voiceover with periodic slides of objects from the Met’s collection, but each is also entirely unique. The personality of the staff really shines through in the objects they pick and the way they talk about them (Dear Melanie Holcomb, let’s be friends).
For “Small Things,” Associate Director for Collections and Administration Carrie Rebora Barratt admits her fascination with tiny objects and reminisces about how her mother would let her get small souvenirs after visiting the Met as a kid, things that she could “fit in her pocket.” My highlight from this slideshow was a necklace by Thomas Seir Cummings called “A Mother’s Pearls,” featuring tiny vignette portraits of each of the Cummings children, a really beautiful, cute object that could easily get lost in a larger collection. “Some things are better small,” Barratt says. I’ll let you be the judge.
“Connections” slideshows come with awesome charts detailing the featured objects in a time line, on a world map and according to where they’re on display in the museum. The streaming progress bar also features dots that are helpful in skipping between objects within the individual videos.
Paintings Conservator Michael Gallagher presents his collection around the idea of virtuosity, a “display of skill” that takes an object to another level. A ceremonial helmet (brugonet) from 1543 is “wonderfully operatic,” a display of both artistic and militaristic power. The “Fragment of the face of a queen New Kingdom”, from Egypt’s Amarna Period around 1353–1336 B.C., is staggeringly beautiful and virtuoso in its rendering of a woman’s eternal lips. It’s fascinating to hear Gallagher simply enjoy these works, mentally wandering through them and being amazed. Definitely inspiring.
Medieval art curator Melanie Holcomb talks about how maps help her make sense of the world. I don’t know about you, but just reading that description makes me excited. Holcomb lives in Brooklyn, loves the subway and loves the NYC subway map, which the curator says conveys tons of information, including charting time, as does a 1291 astrolabe from Yemen. Maps “allow us to be God for a minute,” says Holcomb.
I’ll save “Tennessee” with Christopher Noey for you to explore on your own.
What works best about these video pieces is their brevity and their simplicity. Like little baubles, they are there not so much to educate viewers as to entertain and intrigue, provoking a visit to the museum that holds such wonders. In that quality, the Met’s “Connections” differs from the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art’s video program, which presents longer, documentary style features of museum curators and directors lecturing about the exhibition on view. Every time I visit the museum, I see fellow attendees clustered around the TV monitor, placed in the ICA’s multimedia room. Where the ICA’s longer pieces tread the ground of curatorial theory, the Met’s dabble between genres and media but don’t go deep: they’re like fun, artsy Youtube videos.
“Connections” functions as a selection of highlights from a museum collection and a way for visitors to further interact with the Met’s excellent staff. I like that we get a behind the scenes glimpse of the museum, but again, the Met’s videos are not as art-and-artist focused as those of the Tate’s podcast series or PBS’ Art:21 TV show episodes. But I think “Connections” is uniquely suited to its internet medium in a way that other art multimedia features aren’t, easy to consume and addictive to watch. It’s great that they can function as a short crash course in the appreciation of art in a fun and accessible way. You don’t need to be a scholar to enjoy the quality of the works that the Met’s staff pick.
I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of the “Connections” series. The Metropolitan is a clear forerunner in the online visitor outreach department, bringing a previously hidden aspect of the museum to light in a way that all museums should strive to. “Connections” feels at times like a first draft; it would be great if the project itself and the videos were embeddable and the images higher resolution. But even this first draft is a rewarding experience.
The Metropolitan museum’s “Connections” series is viewable online at the museum’s website.