Archive for the ‘Labels’ Category

The Menil Collection, Houston, TX

May 24, 2015

On a recent visit to Houston, we had a chance to visit the Menil Collection.

menil hallway

 

It’s a low-key, expansive space, all on one level. Most of the galleries and other public areas are filled with natural light. Wood floors are comfortable to stand on and add visual warmth. It’s one of Renzo Piano’s more successful museum buildings, I think. Best of all, admission is free, thus eliminating a major barrier to access.

menil label_2

I had two major beefs. First, the labels are tiny and low-contrast — virtually unreadable unless you get right close up.

menil no seating

Second, the Menil has a bad case of We’re An Art Museum, So No One Gets to Sit Down. Galleries were woefully short of seating, for no good reason that I could see except It Clashes With the Look.

If it weren’t for these two fundamental access issues, the Menil would be an excellent museum in terms of visitor experience.

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Freer Collection, Washington, DC

April 5, 2014

 

The Freer Collection is one of the smaller, quieter museums in the Smithsonian complex. The galleries are refreshingly uncluttered.

 

Freer gallery with seatingq

 Some have seating.

 

Freer no seating 

Many do not.

 

Freer courtyard

The museum is built around a graceful courtyard, which offers eye relief as well as a tranquil outdoor space in good weather.

 

 Freer bench with arm rest

A few galleries have benches with arm rests — a feature that enables visitors to stand up and sit down more easily.

 

Freer wall label

Wall labels are adequate, for the most part, although the body text size should be larger for true accessibility. The labels should be more brightly lit too.

 

Freer bad label

One gallery had labels that were designed and hung in a truly maladroit manner — small type, low contrast, poorly lit, and well below eye level for most visitors.

 

 Sackler label

Meanwhile, an exhibition in the adjoining Sackler Gallery had well-lit, high-contrast labels at a good height. There is no reason the Freer could not do the same. 

MoMA NYC: Still Pretty Dim

November 30, 2012

On a recent trip to New York City, we stopped in at the Museum of Modern Art. An otherwise interesting exhibition on the work of the Brothers Quay was marred by a series of ridiculously unreadable labels in a gallery that featured the artists’ dioramas.

bros q dim label

Yes, there’s a label in that murk. The image was taken using the available light in the gallery.

If a visitor came equipped with night-vision goggles, a flashlight, or the eyes of a nocturnal creature, a label might look like this:

q b lit

For most of us, however, it looked like this:

bq black

This is the opposite of access, comfort, and common sense. There is no excuse for it.

 

Calif. Academy of Sciences Aquarium: Second-Rate Monterey

October 11, 2011

The Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences tries very hard to be another Monterey Bay Aquarium – going for that immersive, “wow” experience that MBA does so well:

The problem is, the aquarium at the Academy is basically an afterthought, stuffed into the basement, with nowhere near the square footage of its southerly rival.

It’s disturbingly dark (as opposed to serenely dark), with no straight lines – which makes for a rather disorienting visitor experience. Not to mention difficult to navigate for anyone with mobility issues.

Low lighting often makes for signs and labels that are difficult to read.

Unlike Monterey Bay Aquarium, entire wings of which are bathed in natural light, the new downstairs Steinhart Aquarium is lit only by ceiling lights. Exhibits like the Tidepool, which ideally should attempt to reproduce or at least realistically represent the experience of a real tidepool at the open ocean, instead become something you might see next to a craps table in the eternal twilight of a Las Vegas casino.

For anyone who remembers the old Steinhart Aquarium, pre-Renzo Piano rebuild, the new aquarium is a sad experience. The old Steinhart was spacious, contemplative, and actually had far more tanks with a lot more sea life. It was, and felt like, an integral part of the Academy of Sciences – and its exhibitry related a lot more to the local environment of northern California. It was successful on its own terms without trying to be something it wasn’t.

 

LACMA: White cubes still rule

April 11, 2011

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art still believes in white cubes – those minimalist display spaces that are an essential part of the modernist art experience in contemporary museums.

It seems to be a requirement that the white cube, in its purest form, must have no seating, as in this photography exhibit in the newly opened Resnick Pavillion.

 

Across the way at the Broad Contemporary (a museum within a museum), the scene could have been lifted from any major art museum any time in the last 50 years:

White walls, wood floors, no seats, pensive visitors in black, and a television on the floor – cathode ray, no less, for that classic touch.

An adjoining gallery had the requisite ambiguous constructions:

And to complete the sense that the visitor is but an acolyte at the altar of culture – a mere supplicant who must work hard for any rewards the art might have to offer – we have the inevitable unobtrusive label in the small typeface:

The Broad’s insistence on the old-fashioned “display-space-must-not-in-any-way-compete-with-the-art” aesthetic would almost be endearing if it didn’t make for so much discomfort.

 

For infrared vision only: really terrible exhibit labels

October 15, 2010

When we visited Venice, the 2010 international Architecture Biennale was under way. We weren’t that impressed with the exhibits themselves, which were mostly self-promotional, self-congratulatory, and/or superficial offerings from dozens of leading architecture firms and many nations.

We were impressed, in a way, with some really, really bad labels. As in totally unreadable.

Ridiculously faint, no? Pale tan on white. But it gets worse. Next to it is an even more unreadable label.

Do not adjust your browser – there is text there, to the left of the tan text: off-white on white, in a smaller face.

In contrast, so to speak, there were standard black on white labels at a nearby exhibit —  but no light by which to read them.

Yes, there is a label there, to the right. This is not an underexposed image — that was pretty much the ambient light level. No flashlights were provided.

Here’s another one.

In this case, your eye adjusted to the brighter light in the background, rendering the darkened label in the foreground a blur.

These labels serve as reminders that even highly paid, extensively educated design professionals can design, or approve, or at least be associated with designs that are downright laughable in their hostility to humans and human comfort.