Student Spotlight on Research: Suzi Bigliani ☆

Suzi, pictured here at the Carsten Höller show wearing one of the smaller pieces from the Upside Down Goggles exhibition, is currently completing her Masters in Arts Administration at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Prior to attending Teachers College she worked in business and client development at Christie’s Auction House. Suzi has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Art History from Colgate University.

You are currently finishing up your thesis, what is it about?

My thesis is about exhibitions that are hands-on interactive and large-scale sculptural installations. After going to both anthropodino at The Park Avenue Armory and Big Bambu at The Met, I saw that these two very different exhibitions had all of these similarities from an administrative perspective. I started looking around, and I found other exhibits where a museum had taken big risks.

What kinds of risks?

Because of these two components—hands-on interactivity and the large-scale nature—it’s not just hanging a painting on the wall; it takes a lot to mount these shows. Recently, after I had done all of my preliminary research, The New Museum announced that they were bringing Carsten Höller. That one was kind of amazing because the museum had taken the biggest risk—they cut holes into their steel and concrete floor and installed a slide that took the museumgoer from the 4th floor all the way down to the 2nd. It was a tube slide, a clear one, so as you were going through the floors you could see through.

In looking at these large-scale exhibitions, what were you hoping to learn?

I was looking at what the motivations were for these exhibits. They were wildly successful—great with audiences—but I wanted to see what it was really like mounting them and what it was like working on them. Were there any unexpected outcomes? And finally, what is the future of these exhibitions? Were the challenges so great that they [the administrators] never want to do it again; are they willing to continue taking these risks?

What drew you to these big exhibitions?

I think they represent a really important sort of signal for museums going forward. Across all kinds of demographics—education and age and whatever—people love these exhibitions, audiences respond to them immediately. For most of these museums, these were blockbuster shows when the artists are not household names. The recent Carsten Höller exhibit broke all of [The New Museum’s] records for the most attended show; it was the first time they had ever had lines down the block. I think they represent a way to engage new audiences and particularly young audiences. But at the same time, they represent a big problem administratively when they’re so difficult and so expensive to mount.

Why do audiences like them so much?

There’s this term relational aesthetics that is the term for the art movement that involves hands-on work and every day life into art practices. I keep seeing all these articles pop up about relational aesthetics. Everything about life is interactive now. We have all these gadgets that dictate everything, and we want more information, and we want to be in touch with everything. And that’s tapping into what artists are seeing and what people are demanding.

Can you see this research informing your career?

I think so, one of the things that was really exciting for me was that one of the interviews I did at MoMA was with the Director of Exhibition Coordination. Something like that is fascinating, the fact that there’s this small department that’s looking at exhibition management from a strategic point of view, saying: ‘Okay this is what the curators are proposing, these are all of their ideas on the table, now how do they physically fit in the building? How do they fit our mission? How can we keep a balance that’s going to attract people but also further a more scholarly approach to art?’ She was showing me these incredible spreadsheets of ten-year timelines of exactly how the building is mapped out. That was really fun for me and I think I would love to do something with that sort of organizational administrative capacity that also involves work with the objects and exhibition management.

What was the best part of this experience?

When I got the announcement for the Carsten Höller show…The topic I had picked was something that was happening in museums and is continuing to happen. It was total validation.