A number of people have asked me why I left Sydney for San Francisco. Why my family and I left our close friends and family, Sydney’s warm climate and great food, and I left a job with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to move to America. There are lots of different answers to that question, but the museum-centric one is “something old and something new”.
SFMOMA has a long and distinguished history of being at the forefront of digital innovation within the art museum sector. They developed the first CD-ROM on modern art in the early 90s, were one of the earliest museums to launch an institutional website in the mid-90s and introduced “touch tables” into the gallery setting in the early 2000s.
When I started at SFMOMA in 2013 I was given a stack of old web team files to go through to decide what should be archived and what should be resigned to the recycling bin of history. I found one particular gem from 1998 entitled: “What To Do on the Web: Some Thoughts about SFMOMA’s Entry into the Electrosphere”. The author writes “as work produced in electronic media or existing only in the electrosphere increases in both amount and sophistication, I would propose that there are three stance a (more or less) traditional art museum can take:”, and goes on to outline 1. “reproduce the museum in the electrosphere, thereby creating an electronic facsimile of the spaces of the physical institution”, 2. “explore new forms of artmaking that cross the boundaries between the real and the projected or digital” and 2. “develop exhibitions of work that can only exist in the eletrosphere, using the structure of a website as the framework”. These are questions that the field is still grappling with, 15 years later. At the end of the piece the author suggests some potential themes for digital exhibitions including “Blobs: The enigmatic attractors of energy fields, created by designers to act as anchors in worlds of electronic sprawl. Includes work created by architects, industrial designers, graphic designers and artists.”
There is such a rich history to be a part of when exploring the digital at SFMOMA.
SFMOMA is currently closed for a massive expansion and will remain so until early 2016. The chance to work at a museum during a period of redefinition, rebuilding and considerable growth is very exciting. So many technological systems that would be hard to address in any other circumstance are now open to debate, replacement or improvement. There are many new stories that need telling, experiences that need defining and interfaces that need building.
My main focus is on connecting the digital touch points for each (physical or digital only) visitor to the museum. To bring the desktop, tablet, mobile, in-museum and in-gallery experiences together. To interweave the pre, during and post visit stories. And to help animate a wonderful museum with an exceptional collection to grow to more than double it’s current size.
Should be fun.