Ad-cult In The Museum World

1. Read AdcultUSA, jotting notes about the defining characteristics Twitchell claims for Adcult. Observe ways that the urge to sell, and to define one’s self through consumption, have penetrated virtually every region of American culture–even “sacred” precincts like the church and universities, and liminal1 episodes such as leaving home for college, graduation, marriage, purchasing a home, or confirmation in a religious faith. Read assigned portions of The Attention Merchants and excerpts I distributed from Frenemies. Do these contemporary studies of advertising alter our understanding from Twitchell of how brands are created and promoted? If yes, how? If no, why not?

2. Visit the dinosaur exhibits at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM). Analyze how the installation/event partakes of Adcult.

Note how the following “materials” position the works and stage a visitor’s relationship to them: a) the gift shop, its merchandise and ways that goods are presented; b) ads for, and media reviews of the exhibit–how other media are used to “brand” dinosaurs; c) how galleries have been decorated, including signage and other presentation-cues surrounding the works; and d) catalog copy and design (you don’t have to buy copies; just read and look at enough content to deal with this aspect of promotion). Observe how the show is mounted–arrangement of works, lighting, color, etc. What conceptual schemes have been used to establish the visitor’s “understanding” of exhibits and their “significance,” aesthetically, scientifically, culturally and historically?

Trail along behind some visitors, singly and in small groups, and observe their responses to the show and to items in the merchandise area; listen in on conversations. What differing impacts does the exhibit seem to have?

3. Read the selection I distributed from Lawrence Weschler’s Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder. Visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT). How does this place mock, or parody, or satirize, or burlesque “normal” museums, such as the one you have visited in 2 above? How, nonetheless, does the MJT celebrate the scholarship and sensibility that undergird traditional views of the museum’s role? Note the MJT’s setting and everything you see and hear once inside its entrance. Does the MJT provide you additional tools for discerning linkages between the NHM and Adcult? Does the MJT unmask how “normal” museums assert their authenticity and act as wholesalers of critical taste? Explain.

4. Your paper should open with a section that explains what makes Adcult work as a social force, according to Twitchell (3 points); explain how Auletta and Wu’s studies either challenge or confirm Twitchell (2 points). Then, present your analysis of the NHM exhibit and spaces that house it, how it exemplifies (and/or resists) the influences of Adcult (6 points). In the course of your analysis, illustrate how your visit to the MJT sensitized you (or could sensitize others) to the ways in which “normal” museums market themselves and their installations (especially heavily promoted shows), drawing parallels to the exhibit at the NHM (6 points).

Very important: Weschler’s essay recounts the history of collecting and how museums embraced and “democratized” cultural resources. Use his ideas as you examine the NHM’s presentation and the MJT.

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