Our exhibition Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving closed on May 12 and we’re taking a moment to review our ASK engagement for this show. As I noted in an earlier blog post, shows like this one present unique challenges as well as opportunities.
The Kahlo exhibition opened on February 8 and ran for thirteen weeks. In mid-April, we made an adjustment to one of our engagement activities: we changed the palm cards that were being distributed to promote our Kahlo-related tours of the Museum’s collections. The new ones had smaller images with instructions on the front, and we hoped that visitors would use them to take the tours rather than see them just as free postcards.
Did it make a difference?
Yes and no. Visitors did realize more quickly that we were offering a gallery activity through these cards. And they did pause longer to read the explanatory wall text in connection with the cards. However, their awareness of the themed app tours didn’t necessarily translate into increased participation. We were busiest during the first three weeks of the show (with 20 to 30 tour-takers per week), but for the rest of its run, we averaged about 10 tour-takers per week. Many visitors still seemed more interested in collecting multiple cards as souvenirs than in taking an app-guided tour beyond the exhibition.
This particular problem is hard to analyze. Based on comments visitors made to our Ambassadors at the card rack, we have a sense that visitors sometimes saw the cards as compensation for the photography ban within the show and often came back to claim them when the exhibition shop was sold out of Kahlo postcards and greeting cards, due to high demand. Visitors wanted a takeaway image, any image, and our ASK palm cards’ potential as souvenirs far outweighed the potential appeal of their engagement content.
In the meantime, we were offering a second Kahlo engagement option! This was a hunt for Kahlo quotations posted throughout the Museum. To plan this game, the ASK team consulted our curators’ list of verified Kahlo quotes and chose fifteen, some of them humorous and some more introspective. They also gathered interesting, relevant facts about Kahlo to share for each quote.
These quotes were strategically placed on all five floors of the Museum, in public areas like elevators and in collection galleries where we juxtaposed them with works of art that had some kind of connection. For example, a quotation about painting flowers was placed near a panel of Ottoman tiles with a floral motif, and a short reflection on Nefertiti was placed near two depictions of the ancient Egyptian queen in our Amarna Period gallery.
Visitors learned about the quote hunt from our ASK Ambassadors or by encountering a quote with its instructions: “Text us snapshots of Kahlo quotes from around the Museum to win a special prize.” We asked visitors to locate 12 quotes, with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays, when only the first floor of the Museum was open for the Kahlo exhibition. On those days, we asked visitors to find eight quotes on the first floor.
Over the course of the exhibition, nearly 900 visitors started the quote tour and approximately 100 completed it. Many of them entered into the game with full enthusiasm, including selfies in front of the quotes they found and taking the opportunity to show off their own Kahlo t-shirts or tattoos. Every winner received a prize from our Shop, including mugs or colorful totes emblazoned with Kahlo’s likeness. Since the quotes were placed around the Museum rather than within the Kahlo exhibition itself, even visitors who didn’t have tickets to see Kahlo were able to participate.
Kahlo once said, “I have not regretted the things I have done.” While we might rethink our staging of the themed tour option for future exhibitions, we still think it’s a concept we should revisit, and we know that artist quotes (and games with prizes!) will continue to receive a positive response visitors.
We have more exhibitions to come soon, so I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to share some of our ASK engagement ideas for the summer!
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.