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George Martin

Audience, Alienation, and Contemporary Art Museums

            Contemporary visual art museums directly reflect current trends, feelings, and sentiments of society and culture and rely on exhibiting as the primary mode for the transfer of ideas from artists to the public. By having conversation with people outside of the realm of art, one notices a great divide in people’s way of thinking about the value of visual art and exhibition. Some give high value and esteem to contemporary visual art, while others discredit its existence and question its use of resources. If a contemporary art institution is to remain viable in a society with an increasing number of outlets seeking one’s time, it must acknowledge and investigate the reasons for people’s dismissal.

            There are a number of factors that affect an individual’s viewing experience—namely education levels, previous exposure to contemporary art, and the presentation of the work. These factors culminate in a person’s experience set. This foundation of preconceived notions directly influences a person’s levels of comfort, feelings of inclusion or exclusion, and helps them form judgments that determine the value of their experience. In the context of contemporary art what are the major barriers within one’s experiences that hinder and prevent them from seeking contemporary exhibition and how can these alienating obstacles be addressed?

            When considering education, institutions have dealt with this obstacle with numerous programs designed to help people understand what they are seeing. Yet, when considering experience, accessibility, and previously instilled opinions about the art world, these factors are more difficult to address. This exploration of the audience for contemporary art institutions will consider the barriers that prevent people from seeking contemporary art through an investigation that will look toward three main sources. First, a survey of people within a larger art museum that houses some contemporary activity in order to gain an understanding of why they might have chosen a general museum over a contemporary museum. Second, a survey of five leading contemporary art museums in order to gain a perspective of their understanding of their audience and to provide comparison between what institutions think hinder their audience and what actually prevents people from coming. Finally, a study of the historical background of the institution to provide insight into the formation of the contemporary museum as we know it today.


          George Martin received his BSBA in International Business from Creighton University before coming to SAIC in 2002. George has previously worked with The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska; Marwen Foundation in Chicago, Illinois; and the Art Institute of Chicago.


Thesis Advisor: Rachel Weiss Associate Professor and Chair, Arts Administration; Exhibition Studies

















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