Referring back to ancient history, here’s a suggestion that galleries might want to consider in order to make that great leap into the mid-twentieth century (let’s not, after all, be ambitious).
Are you ready?
Ask people to take photos.
Ask them. Have photo competitions; not just as an occasional “aren’t we zany, letting you proles in with your cameras?” promotion restricted to the bits with lots of primary colours and no works of particular critical interest, but always, ongoing, throughout the entire museum, reinventing the competition’s structure and promoting the work, say, in real time on the web.
Encourage pastiche, and the contrivance of interesting juxtapositions as people take all these photographs. Get used to the word. Photographs photographs photographs. Photographs, in your gallery. People photographing things. Click click click, only for the past ten years ago they needn’t go click, but I’m trying to break this gently.
Hook your internal systems up with Flickr. Even better: get Flickr to build it for you, for free: they will, I bet. Then, get people to use their new-found mode of expression to question the works they up till now have watched passively, in the vague belief that they’re doing something improving. The content you’ll then end up with would be at the very least reportage, but might quite possibly attain the status of new works of art themselves, based on what you’ve already got in your galleries. You say you’re so consahned, sorry, concerned about art and artists: well, if you’re that bothered then go ahead and dare every one of your visitors to become an artist themselves. Or do you really just count the artists that come with a weekend supplement’s rubber stamp; are they the only ones that are deserving of space on your walls?
Who knows? You might even make people want to come back for—gasp—another visit! You might end up with more fans of your gallery, when they know that they can take part, and aspire, and comment and get involved in ways other than writing tiny, easily ignored scraps on a wall tucked away at the back of the building. That’s an exchange you might appreciate: if you can suffer to give up fragments of a work’s hypothetical and possibly nonexistent soul, let this potentially worthless worth be captured in camera lenses, then in return you might just achieve part-ownership of the hearts and affections of your museum’s visitors. I’ll leave you to do the math; I’ve come over all right-brained, all of a sudden.