Designing Multisensory Exhibitions

“How Wine Became Modern,” via SFMoMA

This weekend I’ll be taking part in the Multimodal Approaches to Learning conference at the Metropolitan Museum. I was asked by the conference organizers to chair a panel on “Designing Multisensory Exhibitions,” and they helped to recruit a great set of panelists, with a wide range of experience, to address this exciting topic. I’m very much looking forward meeting everyone — and to the conversation! And afterward, I’ll be writing up a chapter, for an edited collection, on multisensoriality in architecture and interaction design exhibitions.

Here’s a preview of what we’ll discuss on Saturday:

The conventions of the gallery and commonly used exhibition media and technology tend to privilege representation of the visual and occasionally, although with increasing frequency, the sonic. This panel will explore the challenges and opportunities in designing exhibitions that allow for a more encompassing multisensory experience. Given our panel’s focus on design, we’ll explore new potentials for how various design practices or sensibilities — of course the specialized field of exhibition design, but also interaction design, sound design, graphic design, architectural design, etc. — can work together to promote the engagement of the “whole body” in the exhibition.

And here are the panelists:

Jim Drobnick is a critic, curator, and Associate Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory at OCAD University, Toronto. He has published on the visual arts, performance, the senses, and post-media practices in recent anthologies such as Art, History and the Senses (2010) and Senses and the City (2011), and the journals Angelaki, High Performance, Parachute, Performance Research, and The Senses & Society. He edited the anthologies Aural Cultures (2004) and The Smell Culture Reader (2006), and recently co-founded the Journal of Curatorial Studies. He is a co-founder of DisplayCult, a curatorial collaborative that recently produced Odor Limits (2008), MetroSonics (2009) and NIGHTSENSE (2009) ( He is working on an upcoming book on smell in contemporary art.

Johannes Goebel is the founding director of EMPAC (the Curtis R.Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, since 2002. Between 1990 and 2002 he was the founding director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics at the Center for Art and Media ZKM Karlsruhe in Germany where he was also involved with exhibits in the Media Museum of ZKM. At both institutions he created platforms and initialized artistic and research work between the digital domain and our domain of experience. Earlier in his life he was a composer who built his own instruments out of wood and metal or digital code, or an educator who played with or taught children and adults with varying degrees of challenges in the continuum of the physical and the mental realms.

Siegfried Saerberg teaches Sociology and Disability Studies at several universities in Germany. Besides having written many articles, Dr. Saerberg is the author of the books titled Blinde auf Reisen (Travelling Blind People) and Geradeaus ist einfach immer Geradeaus(Always Straight Ahead: Spatial Orientation of Blind and Sighted People). Furthermore, he works as an artist (acoustic installations) and is curator of exhibitions together with the association Blinde und Kunst (Blind People and the Arts). His last projects in this realm were “Blinde Flecken” (Blind Spots), “Ohrenblicke” (Earglances) and Blackout.

John S. Weber is the Dayton Director of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, an interdisciplinary museum opened in 2000 to create links between contemporary art and other disciplines.  He supervises the Tang staff and oversees exhibitions, programs, collections, and the Tang website, as well as curating exhibitions and writing for museum publications. At the Tang he has organized And Therefore I Am, a group show on consciousness and the mind; Joachim Schmid Photoworks 1982-2007; Molecules That Matter, an interdisciplinary exhibition on chemistry, art, and history, conceived and co-curated by Ray Giguere, Skidmore Chemistry Department; and Environment and Object – Recent African Art, co-curated with Lisa Aronson, Skidmore Art History Department.  As part of his Tang duties, Mr. Weber teaches in the Skidmore art history program.

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