GLAMi nomination: Truth to Power

nominated by: Erica Gangsei, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA
institution: SFMOMA
category: Museum-Wide Guide or Program

**please note that we encountered an HTTP error when attempting to upload media. The audio file related to this submission can be found on google drive here. Associated images can be found on google drive here.**

In times of political upheaval, art is part of the conversation, but it’s not always obvious how. SFMOMA’s “Truth to Power” immersive walk offers visitors a deep dive into works that may not seem provocative in their current white-wall context, but were passionate responses to the events and ideas of their time.

SFMOMA’s mobile app offers a new breed of guided narratives in the museum setting, featuring indoor positioning, fascinating and unexpected hosts from within and outside of the museum, outstanding narrative content, and synced audio that allows visitors to experience the museum, its art, and the app’s content with their friends and family. With our newest immersive walk, we leverage these characteristics to invite visitors to consider the ways in which artists have “weighed in” on the world around them for the past 150 years.

When visitors launch “Truth to Power” within the app’s Immersive Walks menu, they are greeted with this description of the tour: “How is a wall drawing an act of protest? How is a wire sculpture a feminist statement? Artists have always been the conscience of our society. In this walk, hear how they have responded to the politics and social issues of their day—in ways that may not be obvious on the surface.” But this walk goes beyond thinking about historical questions: considering issues including war, relationships, and motherhood, each audio stop is both reflective and timely.

Artists featured in this immersive walking tour include Ruth Asawa, Louise Bourgeois, Sargent Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Sol LeWitt, Julie Mehretu, Diego Rivera, and Andy Warhol. Curators offer insightful discussions of specific artworks, revealing intimate details and bringing in the voices of artists when possible. For example, curator Gary Garrels discusses Julie Mehretu’s monumental HOWL, eon (I,II) (2017), commissioned for SFMOMA’s atrium, broadening the experience of the work to consider Mehretu’s exploration of the American landscape, colonial history, and race. Mehretu herself speaks about the work, offering visitors an intimate experience with the artist and a unique perspective on the monumental paintings.

While visitors walk between artworks, curators use that time to delve more deeply into relevant topics.  As visitors take the stairs or elevator to the fifth floor of the museum, curator Sarah Roberts discusses the tumult of the 1950s, including the McCarthy trials, homophobia, and the new prosperity and consumerism of the era. This context prepares visitors for a thoughtful experience with two works by Andy Warhol, which they can now consider in relation to the social and cultural concerns of the time.

“Truth to Power” provides visitors with a profound, introspective engagement with works of art and their political and social contexts, while also considering important questions that, hopefully, help visitors consider and respond their own time as well.