Tuesday, August 25, 2015

After some initial discomfort

Museums are going through another round of the name game. The latest player is the Whitney Museum of American Art now known as plain old Whitney. Along with ‘American’ and ‘Art’ and ‘Museum’ it also dropped that annoying definite article like Tate in London. Trends sweep across art museum naming like everything else. Remember those MoMA-like acronyms beloved in the 1990s: DAG, MAG, SAG and G-BAG (Dowse, Manawatu, Sarjeant and Govett-Brewster)? Driving all this is marketing of course chasing up the laws of differentiation. 

Some museums have it easy, and have something useful to work with, donor's names for instance. The Dowse Art Museum, named after a Mayor’s wife, has been called The Dowse by most of its visitors since it opened in the 1970s. It’s probably now time to take the hint. Te Papa got the message that a single powerful idea would serve them far better than MONZ (the ponderous Museum of New Zealand) in the branding game. Maori names have proved hugely successful for museums in the past 20 years (Pataka, Te Manawa, Te Tuhi, Te Uru). Many smaller institutions must be ripe for one word brands. Sarjeant, Suter, Forrester (it's in Oamaru), Aigantighe. (ok, maybe not that one). Could be time for the location-based stragglers (Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch Art Gallery and Dunedin Public Art Gallery) to give their names a rethink.