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Brooklyn Museum Returns to Crowd Curating with “Go”

Last Friday the Brooklyn Museum announced plans for Go, a new crowd-curated exhibition happening this fall and winter. For those familiar with the museum’s work over the past few years, the use of crowd curating shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — in fact, if anything, it’s become something of a trend at the institution. It started back in 2008, with Click!, a online photography project that culminated in a small gallery show; continued last year with Split Second, which featured a related online viewing experiment, with paintings; and continues with the upcoming Go, which is subtitled “A community-curated open studios project.”

That subtitle says a lot about how the show will work, and how it differs from the museum’s earlier crowd-sourced efforts. Unlike the previous two, which involved viewers simply logging on from home to participate and were presented more as social experiments, Go will revolve around a massive open studios weekend taking place September 8–9. The project requires people to visit artists’ studios around Brooklyn in order to nominate their favorites, making the audience both more geographically limited and more personally involved. Brooklyn Museum curators will then visit the studios of the top ten nominated artists and choose two or more to show their work in a group exhibition at the museum.

First we clicked; now we go — and I, for one, am excited about the change. I’ve always felt that viewing art online doesn’t come close to the effect of seeing it in person, and visiting an artist’s studio is a special and exciting opportunity to see finished work, work-in-progress and the splayed clutter (or spotless organization) of an artist’s mind as it’s represented physically in their space. Wary as I am of crowd-sourced shows, I think a project that encourages the public to enter the studio and interact with artists (and vice versa) could potentially be a great thing.

“Whereas Click was much more about aggregation of data, Go is much more about what’s happening within the communities of Brooklyn, fostering personal interaction and discussion of that and then thinking about the Museum more as a hub for that interaction,” Shelley Bernstein, chief of technology at the Brooklyn Museum, told Hyperallergic via email.

Bernstein is the woman behind all of the museum’s adventures in crowd curating; as such, Go will have an online component as well: all the participants, from artists to visiting voters to curators, will create profiles on the Go website. But, as Bernstein pointed out, “Go is much more about personal interaction than crowd interaction.”

The project will cover the whole of Brooklyn, a huge undertaking. Asked how she and her coorganizer, Brooklyn Museum Managing Curator of Exhibitions Sharon Matt Atkins, will handle that, Bernstein answered, “Go is taking its queues from grassroots organizing with a distributed architecture and, in order for it to work, we are going to need a lot of help.” They are seeking volunteers to help coordinate the massive open studios weekend especially people who live in and know the busy, artist-filled neighborhoods (cough cough Williamsburgers and Bushwickites).

One surprising detail is that the museum is working with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to try and involve Brooklynites you wouldn’t typically expect to find participating in an open studios event — residents of public housing developments. “In conceptualizing the project, I was really inspired by my own neighborhood, Red Hook, and realized that even though the artist community and the NYCHA residents live side by side, they don’t have a lot of interaction,” Bernstein said. The plan is for NYCHA teaching artists to team up with Brooklyn Museum education staff during the open studios weekend to run walks from NYCHA community centers to local studios. “Teaching artists will utilize iPads so that NYCHA residents can check in at studios and vote onsite,” Bernstein added.

The Brooklyn Museum is often the museum everyone loves to hate in the art world, particularly its efforts to reach out to the community, which critics often denounce as overly populist or gimmicky. And there’s plenty of ire about crowd-curated shows more broadly. It remains to be seen how Go will actually play out, and clearly much — if not all — of its success depends on the museum’s ability to elicit large-scale community involvement. But for now, at least, it sounds like there’s exciting potential.

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