Our special exhibition “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” opened on March 3, and—not surprisingly for a show about such a famous artist—it’s turned out to be a popular exhibition so far.
The ASK team spent several weeks preparing for this show using our regular methods. We got our hands on an advance copy of the catalogue; we watched a documentary about the artist; we built a wiki around the exhibition checklist, adding further information about many objects so that we could go “beyond the label” in our chats. Within a week or so, we’d already noticed certain patterns in app use in this exhibition.
We’d written several ASK “prompt questions” to be placed on labels throughout the show (about one per gallery), to serve as starting points for broader discussion about major themes of the exhibition. Some visitors immediately notice those questions and type them out for us, ready for answers. (Sara discussed this phenomenon in her last post.)
Conversely, some visitors have been shaping their own experience of the show by using ASK as a self-guided tour. They send photos of works that interest them, usually without questions, and an ASK Team member provides relevant information.
Some visitors are ready to jump into sophisticated discussion of the exhibition’s key themes, as conveyed by the didactics and object groupings: the unified modernist aesthetic of O’Keeffe’s art and life (and attire!), her deliberate self-presentation as a rejection of gendered readings that were imposed on her work, and her careful control of her public identity through the many portraits that she posed for.
We had expected O’Keeffe fans to show up and dig deeper into this material, but we were more surprised by the number of visitors who showed up without any specific knowledge of the artist—for a show that requires a special ticket, no less.
Within a day or two of the show’s opening, the ASK Team was fielding questions like “What is she known for?” or “Why is she famous?” These very basic inquiries encouraged us all to step back and use our own preparation to introduce them to the artist and her work.
Biographical questions have continued to roll in:
And, of course, everyone loves a little gossip.
One of the most satisfying aspects of chatting about “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” has been the personal responses to O’Keeffe’s self-created image as an independent woman and artist. Newcomers and O’Keeffe aficionados alike seem to identify with this issue. For example, when one ASK team member sent a quote from O’Keeffe—““The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters”—the visitor replied with her own experience:
Another visitor closed a chat by texting, “I feel like I’m getting such a clear sense of what kind of person she was.” For the ASK Team, this kind of remark is particularly rewarding. It means that they’re successfully conveying the curator’s thesis for this exhibition in a way that is specific and meaningful for the visitors. O’Keeffe herself would likely approve!
Jessica Murphy, Manager of Visitor Engagement, joined the Brooklyn Museum in 2015 as a member of the ASK team. In her current position she leads the team in their interactions with the Museum’s visitors through the ASK app and coordinates their ongoing training and development. Jessica received her B.A. from Fordham University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History (with a concentration in American Art) from the University of Delaware. She previously worked as Research Associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (contributing to exhibitions and publication such as “Alfred Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe” and “The American West in Bronze”), as Contractual Educator at the Met, and as Curatorial Assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has also worked as a freelance writer on cultural topics. She welcomes any opportunity, in any medium, to connect people and art.