I am sitting in my kitchen on Södermalm and eating dinner. My eyes follow the movement on the screen of my mobile phone: Edmund de Waal, the world famous British potter, author and lecturer, is creating an object... white and fragile. He is focused, and so am I. Within just a few hours, nearly 8,000 other people have watched the same video.
De Waal’s video on Instagram is a perfect example of how easily one can now get close to an artist, gaining insight into his everyday routine and life. I know he has run the half-marathon with his son (thanks to COVID-19). He has held lectures on John Ruskin, the British art critic and author, who is also one of my favorites. I have been able to look at the tools in his studio. Objects and works of art that interest him. Landscapes he has visited. And poems he wants to share with others. The dialogue with someone you follow in silence can be strong and significant.
The same logic applies to organisations such as Nationalmuseum. We are present via our channels and would like to share thought-provoking and inspiring material from our rich collections and current exhibitions. An image can spread joy, open doors, and inspire people to learn more about the subject at hand. During the months of the pandemic, our digital presence has become even more important than before, and we have devoted ourselves to communicating via our digital platforms.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we launched a special marketing campaign aimed at reaching more people through the Nationalmuseum Visitor Guide app (which can be downloaded from the AppStore and Google Play). Our targeted marketing reached about 220,000 people. From May to June, the app, which presents all the items displayed in the presentations of our collections, had 2,000 users a month, even though Nationalmuseum and the Gustavsberg Porcelain Museum were closed. From March to October, we have also produced 28 films especially for social media and the web.
This means that all of us who work at Nationalmuseum have learned new skills by making ourselves digitally available. When the exhibition Inspiration – Iconic Works, which I curated with James Putnam from London, was forced to close in March after being shown for only four weeks, I found myself in front of the camera, recounting it to all those who had not had time to see it. In the end, the video reached approximately 35,000 recipients digitally. The feedback has been so positive that we have decided to continue conducting similar viewings, so that even people in risk groups or those who are unable to visit the museum for other reasons will be able to enjoy our exhibitions. We also organise digital meetings with our experts via Instagram, where you can ask our curators direct questions. The concept is called “ask a curator”.
As our examples suggest, we have come a long way since the 1990s, when museums launched their websites with the utmost caution. In 1995, I myself (as a young curator) was involved in the work of launching the first-ever website of the Finnish National Gallery. At the time there was hesitation about what could be expressed on a website, and some people feared that someone would copy pictures and use them without asking the museum for permission. Nowadays, all we feel is satisfaction when we see that the pictures are shared and used in many different ways Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio image resource is a shining example of this progress.
Here at Nationalmuseum, we are continuing to develop digital meetings and visits through development projects that are already underway. We are also eager to create opportunities for a broader dialogue about the visibility of our collection in social media.
Recently we conducted an internal seminar together with Facebook Sweden on issues related to censorship and nudity in art. What can be used and shared? The museum’s perspective, of course, is that we want everyone to have access to all art – including the naked, the sensitive and the controversial. However, the unique role of museums is that we can contextualise the works of art and how nudity, sexuality and eroticism have been interpreted by different observers in different time periods. We also know that the issue is not entirely straightforward, because social media is a global tool and there are different views on nudity and on what is sexually charged in the visual arts of different cultures.
We are genuinely looking forward to continuing to discuss how museums can move forward with developing their digital presence and contextualising sensitive cultural heritage in social media. And at the end of the day, the most important thing is not to be afraid of new solutions!
//Susanna Pettersson, Director General, Nationalmuseum