If you happen to visit the exhibition Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 on Tuesday afternoons you will notice something different: the sight of Museum visitors making art inspired by Sigmar Polke’s processes, in close proximity to his works of art. This shift toward more hands-on learning experiences is not something that happened overnight. About two years ago, the Museum formed a committee charged with experimenting with new forms of social and participatory engagement strategies, both on- and off-site. We listened to feedback from people in the galleries and from participants in MoMA Art Lab and MoMA Studio programs, and what emerged was a clear need and desire for learning and activity spaces that are located closer to the galleries. Since that time we’ve piloted a couple of smaller experiments, but the Polke pop-up is the first true test of embedding “maker spaces” within the galleries.
For this particular program our goals are to:
• Let visitors explore Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 in a more meaningful and personal way
• Create a welcoming, accessible, facilitated environment with the aim of transforming visitors from observers into active participants, by offering activities that foster a deeper engagement with Polke’s process
• Encourage participants to look closely, think, question, discuss, and make connections as they create
• Demonstrate that there are many ways to interpret art
• Provide an experimental “laboratory” space that is both flexible and responsive to new ideas and creative discoveries
• Allow for discussion and exchange, and access to information, materials, and digital resources that may otherwise be new or unexpected for visitors in the museum context.
Working with the curators, a few of us in MoMA’s Department of Education developed three activities designed to help visitors understand Polke’s process:
• 1+1 = 3 Seeing Things As They Aren’t is an activity in which visitors used a variety of materials and textures to create a work to surprise and challenge the viewing, playing with the effects of layering.
• From Raster to Pixel invites visitors to create their own Polke-inspired raster picture using halftone images and other materials and tools, such as light boxes and tracing paper.
• Polke’s a Palm Tree: What Are You? encourages participants to create a symbolic portrait of themselves.
One of the challenges we experienced while creating this space was thinking of activities that would allow participants to fully engage with Polke’s processes while being mindful of the works of art on view nearby. We also were aware that participants might want to take their works home but that due to budgetary and logistical constraints this wouldn’t work for every activity. We decided to photograph or scan participants’ ephemeral creations, which are then published via social media (Instagram, Twitter, and a Tagboard) using the hashtag #MyPolke.
To date, the Polke Pop-Up Activity space has been a tremendous success in terms of achieving its goals:
85% of the participants also visited the exhibition and felt that the interactive experience really enhanced their exploration of the exhibition. One participant explained, “It deepened my relationship to the material, and gave me a kind of ownership of it and the experience…. I think that programs such as this accelerate a person’s attachment to the space (because the museum gave them a one-on-one art experience, and the visitor responded creatively, thereby sketching the basis for a relationship: reciprocity).”
95% of participants said that their experience in the Polke Pop-Up Activities has had a positive impact on the rest of their visit to MoMA. One participant commented, “The experience made my day and week. I was able to free my mind of the rush and repetition that so consistently tends to take over. At a time when I felt as if my mind couldn’t handle any more information the experience that I had brought about an unexpected sense of clarity and positively. I am very thankful.”
The Polke Pop-Up Activities are offered every Tuesday afternoon from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. through July 22, so if you haven’t stopped by yet there’s still time!