Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Getting an earful

News that the Christchurch Art Gallery has just introduced a new audio tour with Sam Neil talking to the art works via iPod didn’t cause a ripple, and why would it? Like corporate sponsorship, cafes and souvenir shops, the audio tour is now accepted as part of what a good art museum should offer its public. Indeed, it’s hard to remember now what it was about audio tours that offended the art profession in the first place. Some we concerned about the overly didactic nature of this sort of material, but computer lettering on the wall has put an end to that sensitivity. Others worried that visitors would not look at the work, just listen to the tape and move on. Guess what, people were smart enough to do both things at once. Checking out audio tours in action recently , the only conclusion we could draw (apart from the fact that they are ubiquitous), is that the people with the headphones study the specified works longer and more intently than virtually all other visitors. There’s a lot of controversy behind that phrase ‘specified works,’ but moving on, the iPod and easy uploading has also opened the opportunity for anyone to create their own tours. Do a tape, put it up on the web and anyone can download your perspective on an exhibition. Even better, tours can include commentaries by artists, conversations and a mix of voices and sounds. Don’t like the museum’s selection of work? Make your own. Check out the tour of the most overrated and underrated paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Modern Art Gallery by Slate critic Lee Siegel and Art Mobs unofficial guides as podcasts for inspiration.