We’ve done a crazy thing. We brought in some architects to build a “space” in the middle of our museum–literally, right in the middle, taking up what would otherwise be a perfectly good gallery area.
It’s been a fun challenge to explain why we’ve done this. Mostly, we’ve been starting with: “Well, it’s a flexible, open space... a hub for creative discussions...” People crinkle their brows and nod, usually say something like, “Hmmm” or “Ahh.”
While this answer might sound somewhat imprecise and very open-to-interpretation, it’s true. And, it’s true because this “space” is very open-to-interpretation. It’s variable like the variable in an algebraic phrase (I apologize for bringing math into this art-blog space): hence the “X.” Get it? GalleryX.
Physically, GalleryX is a temporary, architectural space constructed in the middle of the museum designed by Chicago-based firm Range Design. It is designed to be a free resource for groups and individuals to use during the Smart’s open hours. Book clubs, student organizations, music groups, professors, co-workers, school teachers, artist groups, theatre troupes, and community partners—anyone and everyone—are welcome to use GalleryX as a forum to meet, create, collaborate, convene, talk, share ideas, dream, and scheme. Smart Museum staff will work with groups and individuals to locate artworks from the collection that align with the meeting’s intentions and interests. We hope to integrate art into experiences not otherwise associated with art, bringing about unexpected encounters. Additionally, we’ve engaged the group 500 Clown to help shift audiences from passive observers to active participants. Using the GalleryX space, 500 Clown has staged the Art of Experience, a series of provocations and games designed to invite visitors to think differently about museums, works of art, and artists: provoking laughter, conversation, wonder, and other experiences.
Conceptually, GalleryX will encourage visitors to explore the museum and its collection in new ways. Many rich moments of shared discovery at the Smart take place behind the closed doors of the Education Study Room where University courses as well as groups from Chicago’s South Side schools meet to explore how the Smart’s collection might intersect with real-life issues or particular academic inquiries. GalleryX’s commitment to openness and flexibility turns this model inside-out, allowing the community to experience and to contribute to those moments of shared discovery. We hope that the increased diversity of voices engaged with each other, with the museum’s collection, and with questions concerning the role of a University art museum in its community will generate vivid responses that will inform future approaches to interpretation and visitor engagement and will redefine the Smart’s role as a teaching museum in the 21st century.
If you’ve read this far and thought, “I would love to host a meeting, rehearsal, get-together, or discussion in GalleryX,” please do let us know.