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MoMA’s @: a Symbol of the Post-Digital Museum

The Museum of Modern Art’s recent acquisition of the @ symbol challenges, in the museum’s own words, “the assumption that physical possession of an object [is] a requirement for an acquisition.” The move has provoked varying responses, from mystified to dismissive. While some consider it no more than a clever marketing ploy, the move is not only bold and necessary, but indicative of something much more momentous: MoMA’s redefinition of “modern” and evolution of the role of today’s museum.

Like it or not, MoMA is repositioning itself and its field. It is the first to truly embrace the post-digital environment its patrons now navigate. Alan Moore defines this environment as a “blended reality,” neither wholly online or offline. MoMA has been executing its strategy since 2007 — blending reality, institutional models and visitor experiences. The @ acquisition is not an isolated act, simply the most recent example:

2007: reinterpreting traditional notions of exhibition space and public art, MoMA projects Doug Aitken’s sleepwalkers onto the museum’s facade, turning itself inside out.

 

2008: showcasing Paola Antonelli’s brainchild Design and the Elastic Mind, MoMA merges the traditionally separate disciplines of design and science, recasting the role of both in today’s society.

 

2009: going underground, MoMA turned over (inadvertently, it later claimed) some of its prized pieces to the likes of Poster Boy, allowing for the first time a public mashup of their intellectual property.

 

2010: hosting performing artist Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, MoMA dissolves the traditional roles of the artist as presenter and the audience as admirer; rather the audience is “in the picture and part of the creative process.”

 

2010: acquiring the @ symbol, MoMA dissolves traditional notions of collecting and ownership, tagging (rather than owning) pieces of cultural significance. It effectively democratizes the role of museums, turning itself into an open platform where everybody adds and borrows meaning. The days of museum as mere tastemaker are over.

MoMA’s move is groundbreaking. Wolff Olins suggests the museum of the future must establish its relevance beyond its own walls, represent multiple perspectives and encourage visitor participation and collaboration.  MoMA does these three and more. 

It is the first post-digital museum.



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