Engaging Strangeness in the Art Museum: an audience development strategy

Jane Deeth

Abstract


What is the public art museum’s role in enhancing hesitant viewers’ engagement with contemporary art, especially its more challenging and conceptual aspects? In considering this question, the notion that contemporary art is too difficult for general audiences to engage with directly is refuted. It is suggested that the capacity for viewers to make sense of contemporary art, understood as the discursive practices that have come to the fore since the 1960s, is hindered not by the art but by the art theory that hesitant viewers employ. As representational and formalist aesthetic codes remain the dominant modes of responding to art, for the art museum to become more inclusive, there needs a greater emphasis on discursive approaches to experiencing art. From an examination of claims made across disciplines that advocate discursive practice, including George Hein’s constructivist museum, Helen Illeris’s performative museum and Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic conversation, a strategy for the enhancement of the experience of contemporary art for the hesitant or disconnected viewer is proposed that involves reorienting the role of the public art museum from expert speaker to expert listener.


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Copyright (c) 2015 Jane Deeth

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360