Free Association: A Q&A With BAM’s Richard Rinehart A museum curator reaches out to digital generation youth and expands museum possibilities.
May 22, 2008
Digital art is the latest creative mode to express how our lives intersect with technology. Even as we photograph and record each other with our cellphone cameras and leave messages across cyberspace for our friends and acquaintances, digital artists do what artiss have always done — highlight and question what these practices mean and show them to us in a new light.
But what role do museums play in a world where the public can easily access art online? Why should we care about museums when technology allows many of us to be able to copy, disseminate, play with and alter artworks in fun ways that museums usually have prevented?
Over the past 15 years, Rinehart has introduced novel participation and distribution concepts into the museum structure, including using web technology to challenge the traditional vision of museums as a place where experts pre-select art from the collection for visitors. Rinehart’s ideas also overturn the notion that a museum or gallery’s reputation depend on exclusive access to art, rather than the ability to make it as widely available as possible.
Rinehart also has plans to make the entire digital art collection open-source and available for remix. This turns digital museums into truly public works projects, inviting everyone in to participate as well as observe, as well as fostering art that can escape the walls of the museum and roam the internet and the world.
I spoke with Rinehart on the eve of his latest production: The Berkeley Big Bang, about digital art, education and social change, and the future of the museum in the digital age.
How did you come to your current position at the museum?
: It’s funny, I was just reading a thesis (PDF) by a grad student at MIT that’s all about how new digital art forms interface with traditional institutions like museums. One of the findings was that most digital art curators don’t come to their job in a straightforward way. Most of them don’t have degrees in art history or even digital art and most don’t apply for a job as a digital art curator, but get hired at a museum for something else. That describes my development as well.
I have a degree in Art Practice (a focus on learning about art through making art, rather than studying primarily its historical contexts) and have been doing “digital work” in museums for 14 years. “Doing digital work” can mean a lot more than curating and exhibiting. It can be doing IT, online marketing, e-commerce, etc., and a few tasks that are more unique to museums: online access to art collections, other online resources that may support research or instruction, and figuring out copyright issues that are at the unique intersection of art objects and the digital age. This work slowly and organically developed into my being a digital curator.