Reframing L.A.: Awarding Excellence in the Getty’s “Overdrive” Exhibit

By Christopher James Alexander

When my Getty colleagues and I embarked on the development of an architecture exhibition about the rapid evolution of one of the world’s most dynamic and influential cities, we had to embrace one harsh reality. People love to hate Los Angeles. Despite the fact that this region has inspired the creation of some of the most iconic structures of the twentieth century, including Griffith Observatory, the Capitol Records Tower, John Lautner’s Chemosphere, the space age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, and Case Study House 22 by Pierre Koenig, many are more inclined to associate this vast metropolis with haphazardly assembled banality than engineered excellence. Reframing the public’s perception of L.A.’s built environment was an exciting and daunting opportunity. Thanks to the extraordinary contributions of scores of talented individuals, Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990 was able to reveal how Southern California’s latent landscape was transformed into a vibrant laboratory for architectural innovation.

There are multiple ways to engage with the exhibit including videos, iPads with sound wands, and 3-D viewers.

There are multiple ways to engage with the exhibit including videos, iPads with sound wands, and 3-D viewers.

Receiving the Western Museum Association’s (WMA) Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Award for Exhibition Excellence was a tremendous honor for the entire Overdrive team. This project was full of unexpected challenges that were overcome as a result of the nimble ingenuity and tireless efforts of colleagues throughout the institution. The recognition from our WMA peers was a profound endorsement of our ambition to create a vivid experience that would engage, inform, and delight museum visitors with underappreciated dimensions of L.A.’s complex architectural legacy.

Within the 'Community Magnets' section, there are a variety of objects to tell the story of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Within the ‘Community Magnets’ section, there are a variety of objects to tell the story of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

The exposure that Overdrive received as a result of this important prize bolstered the National Building Museum’s presentation of the exhibition in Washington, D.C., which opened soon after the award’s announcement. The WMA buzz factor also resulted in increased traffic to the exhibition’s website, which still includes 23 videos highlighting the region’s growth and impact through animated maps, lively historic film footage, and intriguing oral histories. Interest in the exhibition’s catalogue also grew, due to the vibrant WMA network’s awareness and promotion of the project.

In the final gallery, the relationship of furniture and graphics define the space.

In the final gallery, the relationship of furniture and graphics define the space.

Every new exhibition provides an institution with the chance to redefine how complicated ideas and unique material may be presented to diverse audiences. The strength of the WMA community encourages us all to forge ahead with our ongoing goal of creating inspiring narratives and stimulating environments that spark fresh insights and cultivate meaningful moments of interaction. My colleagues and I are extremely grateful for the WMA’s support, and we look forward to exploring all of the compelling contributions from this year’s Charles Redd Center Award nominees.

The deadline for nominations to the 2014 Charles Redd Award is
July 31, 2014.

Learn more about the Award here.

Christopher James Alexander is the assistant curator of architecture and design at the Getty Research Institute. Since arriving at the Getty in 2004, he has co-curated the exhibitions Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990 (2013); Julius Shulman’s Los Angeles (2007); Julius Shulman, Modernity and the Metropolis (2005); Bernard Rudofsky: What Would Intrigue Him Now? (2007); and the Getty’s installation of Lessons from Bernard Rudofsky (2008). He is the co-editor of Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990 (2013) and the author of Julius Shulman’s Los Angeles (2011). Alexander earned his M.Arch degree from the University of California at Los Angeles and B.A. in Fine Arts and Art History from The George Washington University.

Program Perspective: Illuminating the National Atomic Testing Museum

Las Vegas, the Atomic City, was at the center of the nuclear era. At the National Atomic Testing Museum resides one of the most comprehensive collections of nuclear history.

One step into the Atmospheric & Pacific Testing gallery will transport you into another era.

The Atmospheric & Pacific Testing Gallery

The Atmospheric & Pacific Testing Gallery

The Museum tackles all aspects of atomic testing in the United States from underground testing and the specific tools used, to radiation, and to the intense geo-political struggle of the Cold War. The current collection includes thousands of rare photographs, videos, artifacts, scientific and nuclear reports and data and one-of-a kind scientist artifacts.

Underground Testing gallery

Underground Testing gallery

 

Underground testing drill bits

Underground testing drill bits

 

Display on drilling for underground weapons testing

Display on drilling for underground weapons testing

 

Tactical Nuclear weapons display

Tactical Nuclear weapons display

 

Downhole Fisheye Motion Picture Camera

Downhole Fisheye Motion Picture Camera

 

An installation on Soviet era memorabilia

An installation on Soviet era memorabilia

Southern Nevada was the testing ground for America’s Nuclear Testing Programs, and the city had a unique reaction: to revel in the magnificent display of science and become an Atomic City where tourists could attend atomic test parties. A popular watering hole in Las Vegas was Atomic Liquors, a local bar frequented by Frank Sinatra, The Rat Pack and Hollywood actors like Shirley McClain while performing in Las Vegas. Bar Patrons today can still order the famous Atomic Cocktail.

Items in the Atomic Age Gallery

Items in the Atomic Age Gallery

The special exhibit Area 51: Myth or Reality immerses you in the black world of Area 51, America’s most secret place that is certain to raise questions about UFOs, advanced technology, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the universe.

The "AREA 51" Poster

The “AREA 51″ Poster

During the Atomic City Evening Event at the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting, attendees will have the opportunity to see some of the more than 12,000 unique artifacts in a retrospective and comprehensive light.

Learn more about the 2014 Annual Meeting here.

Join WMA in Las Vegas and register today!

 

Explorations in Making, Tinkering, and Learning With Hands

By Susan Spero

Last week (June 16, 2014) the White House held its first ever Maker Faire, an effort that at least for me, signals a coming of age of the Maker/Tinkering movement within the United States. From the earliest beginnings of Maker Faires, museums have partnered to create, design, and engage audiences with these events. The Exploratorium played a strong role during the Maker Faire inaugural event in 2006 in Silicon Valley; two additional museums—the New York Hall of Science in the East and The Henry Ford near Detroit—now hold respective “flagship” Faires on their grounds. In fact you might not know that your institution can partner with parent organization Maker Media to create your own Maker Faires.

Variations of the hacked "The Art of Tinkering" book showcased at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. (photo by S. Spero).

Variations of the hacked “The Art of Tinkering” book showcased at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. (photo by S. Spero).

While do-it-yourself exploration has been present for a long time in museums, more recently several institutions have dedicated significant space for maker-style activities. In 2013 the Exploratorium opened its new site with more floor space committed to its Tinkering Studio. Likewise, in June 2014 the New York Hall of Science debuted its new Design Lab. To go along with the White House Maker Faire, the Institute of Museums and Library Services released these talking points (pdf) about Museums, Libraries and Maker Spaces. Museum work and the Maker movement readily go hand-in-hand; its increasing popularity allows doing and visitor participation totake center stage.

If you haven’t yet rubbed hands with the Maker movement, there are several resources about making, tinkering, and learning. I offer three to start.

The Art of Tinkering (Weldon Owen; First Edition [February 4, 2014]) is a joyful read wherein you meet playful artists, tinkerers, and their work. Authors Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich are the co-directors of the Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium and have assembled a staff of tinkerers who not only at times tinker with physical material, but also have spent years together tinkering with this hands-on approach. You meet their tinkering spirit the minute you crack open the book: “Hack this book,” commands the opening line. Sure enough, readers can hack this book by completing circuits on the front cover, which has been printed using conductive ink. Add your own power source to make it blink with light, beep with sound, or whatever your mind can imagine.

Tools for playing with circuitry in the Tinkering Studio

Tools for playing with circuitry in the Tinkering Studio

In their opening essay, Wilkinson and Petrich offer a sense of what tinkering is, “..in our minds [tinkering] is more of a perspective…It’s fooling around with phenomena, tools and materials. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing. It’s slowing down and getting curious about the mechanics and mysteries of everyday stuff around you. It’s whimsical, enjoyable and ultimately about inquiry.” They go on to say more in the text, and their extensive experience shines through the entire book.

The book offers fifteen guiding principles of tinkering that in and of themselves make it worth a read. These include such notions as: Merge Science, Art and Technology; Create Rather than Consume; Revisit & Iterate On Your Ideas; and one of my truism favorites: Take your work seriously without taking yourself seriously.

The book is both a how-to guide and a collection of dozens of artistic/tinkering approaches seen through the photographs of studio spaces, tools necessary, and the end-results. Throughout the story, readers explore the tinkering mind-sets and methods that have been developed and refined over time, frequently after artists worked with the Tinkering Studio. Reviewing these varied approaches to making should inspire you to find makers within your own community and encourage them to work with visitors on your own museum floors. And if you have no interest in tinkering, consider the book as a great introduction and tribute to tinkering itself.

A second resource for learning more about Maker concepts is an anthology of voices gathered around the key ideas suggested in the title: Design, Make, Play: Growing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators (Routledge [March 15, 2013]). Margaret Honey and David E. Kanter, both from the New York Hall of Science, edited this book, which includes articles by established leaders of the Maker community. Several of the texts focus on how the Maker movement connects to STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math). For those in the art world, the ideas within these chapters apply equally well to STEM’s morphing corollary, STEAM, an acronym that adds an A for Art into the mix.

Authors offer insight into creating Maker spaces and activities on the museum floor, such as describing the evolution of the classic Maker activity “Squishy Circuits.” Games, block parties, and puzzle-solving technology demonstrate the wide range of experiences welcomed within this playful and problem-solving arena. Combined together, the articles strongly advocate that play and fun through making encourage exploration and discovery. Authors in all case studies explain the reasoning behind Maker activities, offering rationales that can be cited when arguing for your own Maker project.

If you need a summer read try Frank R. Wilson’s thought provoking The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, and the oldest of my suggestions having been published in 1999. This third resource is a well-written, non-fiction book about the capabilities of our hands. The book’s subtitle accurately emphasizes the whole point of the book: Wilson’s claim that we learn about our world not only by using our brain, but also through the partnership of our brains and hands. Making is deeply dependent upon how we use our hands, so the more we can learn about them the better. Wilson’s book is a great guide.

Wilson spent his career as a neurologist who often worked with professional musicians suffering from hand ailments. He presents a well-told and scientifically fascinating story of the hand from multiple perspectives—from the academic anthropologist and physiologist to the performing puppeteers, musicians and even magicians. It is a dizzying array of views on a part of our body that most of us use daily, generally without thinking.

The connection of this hand tale to the Maker movement seems direct as you read through the book, especially the notion that our hands are one of the keys to understanding the world. After reading this book I have a better sense of how the hand works and how its behavior lets me learn. The challenge is to set up compelling making and tinkering events that ask us to use our hands in both recognized and new ways.

Before ending I must acknowledge the incredible irony that this post on making is dedicated to resources you read to learn lessons about this movement. My hope is that perhaps by reading about successful Maker models, you can pick up the spirit of the Maker movement. With enough inspiration you can then use the ideas and approaches to construct a program within your own institution. Nonetheless, I do realize that the best way to get the power of the Maker movement is to actually go to a good Maker Faire and use your hands to learn. Reading is good, but not enough. Find a Maker Faire near you, and go—then read the books!

Susan B. Spero, Ph.D. teaches Museum Studies at the John F. Kennedy University. Two years ago she was fortunate to spend time with the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio Team during a multi-day workshop with the Arkansas Discovery Network. The experience was enough to revive her long-lost tinkering tendencies, and she has returned to playing with materials for their own sake.

Program Perspective: Illuminating the Neon Museum

A mid-Century modern architectural artifact greets visitors as they enter the Neon Museum: The La Concha Motel Lobby. Originally constructed in 1961 on Las Vegas Boulevard South (next to the Riviera Hotel), the La Concha lobby was saved from demolition in 2005 and moved in 2006 to its current location to serve as the museum’s Visitors’ Center.

The La Concha Visitor Center

The La Concha Visitor Center

 

The entrance to the Boneyard

The entrance to the Boneyard

As visitors participate in a docent-led guided, they learn about Las Vegas’ history through light.

Pathways through the Boneyard

Pathways through the Boneyard

Make sure to check out the Museum’s Instragram page (OfficialNeonMuseumLasVegas) or Facebook page for more amazing imagery of these neon artifacts.

Neon_lo

Neon2_lo

Signs are carefully placed to construct a narrative of the stories of iconic businesses, hotels, and casinos. These signs begin to show about the people of Las Vegas, tourists and residents alike, while at the same time reflect the era of U.S. history they were created in. They layered signs tell the story of an adaptive city that has hosted many characters.

Glowing signs at the Neon Museum

Glowing signs at the Neon Museum

 

The Sahara sign lit up at night

The Sahara sign lit up at night

 

The iconic Stardust sign lit up at night

The iconic Stardust sign lit up at night

During the Vintage Vegas Evening Event at the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting, attendees will be able to see the collection theatrically lit from below as well as its four restored signs, illuminating a new way to look at historical artifacts.

Join us for the Vintage Vegas event at WMA2014!

Join us for the Vintage Vegas event at WMA2014!

Join WMA at the 2014 Annual Meeting and register today!

Learn more about the 2014 Annual Meeting here.

Program Perspective: Illuminating Springs Preserve

0012_misc_lasvegas_skyline_sp_LoOne step into the Springs Preserve transports you into another world within Las Vegas—one before the time of the Hoover Dam, casinos, and neon lights.

A unique 180-acre cultural complex, the Springs Preserve features museums (including the Nevada State Museum), galleries, colorful botanical gardens, as well as an interpretive trail system that meanders through one of the richest and most unique biological resources in Southern Nevada.

Las Vegas is located in a basin on the floor of the Mojave Desert—the city’s annual precipitation is only about 4.2 inches. Springs Preserve addresses the many water issues, as well as innovations in sustainability throughout its buildings, trails and exhibits.

Water Derrick Trail

Water Derrick Trail

 

Sustainability Gallery

Sustainability Gallery




Watering Can Theater

Watering Can Theater

The Desert Sol House is a living example of energy-saving residential design and sustainable living.

The Desert Sol House

The Desert Sol House

 

The Springs Preserve Nature Exchange is an international program that allows young collectors to trade naturally found items such as shells, rocks, bark, pinecones and more, for which they earn points that can be used for trading for other items.

Springs Preserve Nature Exchange

Springs Preserve Nature Exchange

With so many outdoor activities, make sure to visit the Springs Preserve’s Origen Museum (“Origen” was derived from two words: original and generations) containing more than 75 permanent exhibits, an indoor theater and traveling exhibit space.

Animal exhibit area

Animal exhibit area

 

Big Springs Gallery

Big Springs Gallery

Being in a desert means that there can be torrential flash floods, which visitors can experience at one of the most popular exhibits in the Origen Museum.

Flash Flood exhibit

Flash Flood exhibit

During the Final Afternoon at Springs Preserve on Wednesday, October 8, attendees will be able to sit in on conference sessions, participate in special tours, watch WMA’s second installment of WestMusings, and wander the amazing grounds and exhibits at this one-of-a-kind locale.

Join WMA at the 2014 Annual Meeting and register today!

Learn more about the 2014 Annual Meeting here.

Time to Nominate: 2014 Director’s Chair Award Deadline!

A chance to recognize unsung heroes of our profession…
not necessarily just for directors

Every year museum professionals are able to accomplish both personal and institutional goals. Likewise, it is important to for peers to recognize and support those achievements in the goal of furthering the museum profession.

2013 Director’s Chair recipient Dr. Sarah George, Executive Director of the Natural History Museum of Utah, pictured with Jayceen Craven Walker, UMA Board President; Jason B. Jones, WMA Executive Director; and Redmond Barnett, WMA Board President

2013 Director’s Chair recipient Dr. Sarah George, Executive Director of the Natural History Museum of Utah, pictured with Jayceen Craven Walker, UMA Board President; Jason B. Jones, WMA Executive Director; and Redmond Barnett, WMA Board President

The Western Museums Association (WMA) is accepting nominations for the 2014 Director’s Chair Award. The Director’s Chair Award is designed to showcase and acknowledge outstanding achievements in the museum profession. The Award is presented annually to an individual who has had a significant and lasting impact on museum practices and/or the museum profession in the Western Region. Please note that nominees can be working in any discipline.

The July 15, 2014 deadline is rapidly approaching!

The Award, a canvas director’s chair with the recipient’s name boldly printed across the back, will be given at the 2014 Annual Meeting. Recipients are also profiled in the Annual Meeting program, address Annual Meeting attendees during a Keynote Lecture, and will be featured on the WMA website and blog.

The following guidelines will be considered in the selection of the Director’s Chair Award recipient:

  • Performance at a sustained level of excellence in service to museums or the museum profession
  • Development and/or implementation of a specific project that has made a major contribution to museums or the museum profession
  • A significant contribution to museums or the museum profession at a national level
  • Promotion of excellence and recognized value to the public and the community through their museum, institution, or profession

To submit a nomination for the 2014 Director’s Chair Award fill out the Director’s Chair Nomination Form and submit a letter outlining the nominee’s qualifications and how they meet the above criteria.

The Award nomination deadline is July 15, 2014. Please send all nominations to the Review Committee at proposals@westmuse.org. You will receive a confirmation upon receipt of your application, and you will be notified of the final award results no later than August 15, 2014.

Register for WMA’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas!

View the Preliminary Program

Time to Nominate: 2014 Charles Redd Award For Exhibition Excellence!

Did you or a colleague create an innovative exhibit about the American West in 2013 or 2014? The Western Museums Association (WMA) is pleased to consider applications for the 2014 Charles Redd Annual Award honoring excellence for an exhibition that furthers the study and understanding of the American West. The Award is funded by the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University.

The deadline for the 2014 Charles Redd Award nominations is July 15, 2014.

2013 Redd Award was presented to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Nicole Trudaeu, Exhibition Designer, and Christopher James Alexander, Architecture and Design Curator, accepted the Award. Pictured with Jason B. Jones, WMA Executive Director

2013 Redd Award was presented to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Nicole Trudaeu, Exhibition Designer, and Christopher James Alexander, Architecture and Design Curator, accepted the Award. Pictured with Jason B. Jones, WMA Executive Director

This competition recognizes outstanding achievement of a temporary exhibition (i.e. one with a specific closing date) from all types of museums as defined by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), without regard to geographical location, size, budget, discipline or age. A representative designated by the honored institution will be presented with an award at the Annual Meeting.

In order to qualify for the award, nominees must meet the following criteria:

  1. Eligibility is not limited by geographical location, size, budget, discipline, or age.
  2. The exhibition for which the museum is nominated must be a temporary exhibition (i.e. with a defined closing date) opening between July 15th, 2013 and July 15th, 2014. The exhibit must have as its primary display and interpretive emphasis some aspect of the American West: i.e., west of the Rocky Mountains, including Alaska and Hawaii. Subjects include, but are not limited to, the arts and humanities, social/historical studies, ethnic/native studies, and natural/ecological studies.
  3. Preference will be given to those exhibits that foster the American West as a legitimate study for museums and the general public, that utilize innovative exhibition and public programming possibilities, that result from creative collaboration with communities or organizations (including museums and universities) beyond the sponsoring institution, and that engage audiences in the subject of the exhibition in compelling ways.
  4. The exhibition must have a physical location open to the general public. The exhibition may be supplemented by film, website, and publications, however, at this time, these alternative media do not qualify as “exhibition” on their own for the purposes of this award.

To Nominate:

To nominate an exhibition for the 2014 Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Award for Exhibition Excellence, please download the Charles Redd Award form and return it by July 15, 2014 (postmark date) to:

Email: proposals@westmuse.org

Post:
Western Museums Association
Awards Committee
PO Box 7042
Tacoma, WA 98417

You will receive a confirmation upon receipt of your application, and you will be notified of the final award results no later than August 15, 2014.

Any questions should be directed to WMA.

Register for WMA’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas!

View the Preliminary Program