Monday, May 14, 2012

MuMo: a mobile museum for children

What a wonderful project this is! Conceived by Ingrid Brochard, entrepreneur, art collector and philanthropist, MuMo is a traveling contemporary art museum especially for children aged 6 through 12. The project is the first major undertaking of her non-profit foundation, L'Art à l'Enfance.

Designed by New Jersey-based architect Adam Kalkin, the museum consists of a shipping container engineered to magically unfold and pop up like a Transformer toy, topped off with a giant inflatable pink bunny sculpture, courtesy of Paul McCarthy.

Kalkin's preliminary sketch for MuMo.

MuMo at a schoolyard in Cameroon

The museum was assembled in Liverpool in the spring of  2011, and from there was shipped across the channel to France. It began its journey to schoolyards throughout France last fall, and is now traveling to elementary schools in Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire. It will return to France in the fall of this year, with a fully-booked tour schedule through the spring of 2013.

There are 15 internationally recognized artists featured in the museum, including Lawrence Weiner, Nari Ward, Paul McCarthy, Ghada Amer and Maurizio Cattelan. 

Children enter the museum in small groups of parents or teachers allowed! They are, however, accompanied by a child psychologist, who travels with the exhibition, and trains additional local adult mediators to assist.  In a recent interview with ArtInfo,  Brochard stated that at first she had wanted the children to explore the museum with no adults whatsoever. "But I was afraid that they would miss certain things or that they wouldn't take their time. The idea of guidance is important, as long as the child can speak freely and be listened to. It came down to shedding the academic habits and structure that teachers enforce. I didn't choose (psychologist) Donatella Caprioglio because she's a therapist but because she knows how to listen to children, because she respects their freedom," Brochard said. "I want to avoid at all costs having any authoritarian aspect to the visit."

After the visit, children make their own artwork, and Caprioglio and the mediators conduct a "café" to discuss the experience with the undoubtedly disappointed and frustrated parents and teachers, who are able only to experience the museum vicariously through their children's eyes and ears.  I love how this project turns the traditional pedagogical hierarchy upside down, and allows children space for creative exploration and critical thinking, on their own terms. In the artists selected for the exhibition, the curators avoid any dumbing-down or pandering to adult notions of what children are capable of appreciating, understanding or enjoying. Also on MuMo's website is some charming documentary footage of children's reactions the art they've just seen: one small boy in Cameroon is positively giddy about the experience, declaring Ghada Amer's work, his favourite in the exhibition, to be "Magnifique!...I've never seen anything like that before!".  What he has never seen before is a depiction of two people kissing, highlighting the cross-cultural exploration of similarity and difference that is at the core of this project.  I hope a full-length documentary about MuMo is in the works.

From MuMo's website, here is a short video clip about how the project started, with some interesting commentary from a few of the artists involved. Even if you don't speak French, you'll get the idea...and of course, the American architect and artists speak English.  Lawrence Weiner's comments about the importance of art the psychological development of children are spot-on.

The following excerpts from an interview with Ingrid Brochard (conducted by Françoise Claire Prodhon, via l'Art à l'Enfance) give a fuller sense of Brochard's philosophy and guiding principles:

Why do you wish to set up this project?
Ingrid Brochard : This project is part of a very personal thought process. In my eyes, art, or rather "the arts" in their widest sense: they have the power to open eyes on the world and the realm of emotions, they help us to get through life and its hardships. This is probably the observation that led me to think of a project that would help underprivileged children, or at least those who do not have access to art.

It's a charity with a humanitarian vocation. How do you plan to carry it out ?
This project is designed for the children of Europe, Africa, Asia, South America… It can be implemented with orphanages, hospitals and schools. It will take on the form of a travelling museum that will get to the children in places that are sometimes very remote. The idea is to provide them with a special moment during which they'll have to confront the creative process. But it will also create opportunities to share with the artists during workshops and performances.

What are the guiding principles of the project and how does it work?

The interventions can take on various forms. One of its aspects is the Mobile

Museum, but there are artists who design a project with a specific target that doesn't require them to go on location. For example, Florence Doléac, the designer, designed the blanket-transitional object project for us, which targets small children at an orphanage who don't really have any toys of their own. Another example: Lawrence Weiner is currently setting up the project of a book designed by artists for the children, which will be handed out to the children with the help of Libraries Without Borders.
I talked about L'Art à L'Enfance with many artists, and they all tend to appreciate that type of experience that's outside of the usual framework of contemporary creation, and in which there are no commercial stakes.

What do you mean by that?
I have first-hand experience with the world of contemporary art and its market, the strategic and economic stakes that pervade it. I'm not criticizing, but that's not what I'm looking for… Art is a tool of the mind, and by balancing our emotions, it transforms our outlook on the world, and that's what I wish for these children.

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