Montana Blanco November 2009 Re-Imagining the Museum In 2006, the RISD Museum opened Wunderground: Providence, 1995

-Present. The exhibit, organized by Judith Tannenbaum (Curator of Contemporary Art) explored the poster art and material culture of the Providence arts scene. The featured works represented a number of mediums. Each artist employed a similar thread of found materials, low-tech production, and handmade aesthetics. Wunderland was a means to expose standard ‘museum-goers’ to artistic expression outside the expected canon. The initiative was successful in that it effectively integrated previously ‘unacknowledged’ artists into the museulogical dialectic, and coalesced a bridge between the museum and the larger Providence community. Wunderground is particularly interesting because of Tannenbaum’s choice to display the posters side-by-side, covering the walls of Main Gallery in their entirety. The works appeared as if they were postered on the exterior of a building. Not only was this an efficient way to incorporate a high volume of images, but it also remained true to the visual language in which the posters would have originally been encountered. The curatorial voice was that of facilitator. The audience was free to look as they wanted, in the order they pleased, making nuanced connections between juxtapositions that were particular to each viewing experience. The exhibit fostered a democratic ‘looking’ environment that encouraged co-authorship and audience participation. Immediately after Wunderground closed, the Main Gallery underwent renovation. The space reopened in 2008, revealing vibrant blue walls, covered floor to ceiling with

19th Century European paintings. Maureen O’Brien (Curator of Painting and Sculpture) implemented salon style hanging to exhibit the works in their original context. It is uncertain whether there is connection to Wunderground and the subsequent gallery renovation, but there are parallels in the experiential effect of both displays. In the salon renovation, labels are absent and the pictorial themes seem to be random. The viewer is liberated from the constraints of a mandatory narrative, and free to create their own. While the content is drastically different, both exhibitions employ a mode of display that is true to preexisting museulogical convention. In Re-Imagining the Museum: Beyond the Masuoleum, Andrea Witcomb is insistent upon problematizing the ‘old-new’ paradigm that overlooks the complexity of intentionality in the museum. “Contemporary museum trends have historical precedents rather than being a radical break from the past” (165). Using this as a point of departure, can we consider Wunderground and the Main Gallery renovation a similar type of installation? Furthermore, what does this suggest about that consistency in viewing experiences between the 19th Century and the 21st? Can museum practitioners use ‘old’ modes of display to create ‘new’ meaning in a modern context?