These days, a museum can be a massive temple, tiny storefront, or computer hard drive. It is always, however, a repository for things selected by a curator. The recent Museum as Plinth: Take One / Leave One in the lobby of New York's Museum of Arts & Design (MAD), offered an interactive spin on curatorial convention, or what the organizers called an "experiment in self-serve curation"—and would have been familiar to anyone who has ever participated in a swap meet.
For three days over this past Memorial Day weekend, MAD encouraged the public to decide what design objects were museum-worthy. "They gave away the power of 'credentialing'—possibly their most valuable power," explains lead curator Anne Quito, who wrote the proposal that led to the exhibit, which was put on in part to encourage the design community to rethink the needs of the museum.
Quito, an MFA student at The School of Visual Arts' design criticism department, was inspired by a 2000 retrospective on Tibor Kalman, called "Tiborocity," at the New Museum. "Near the entrance," she recalls, "there was a shelf where you could take anything that was there. I took home some dental floss that day. It reinforced Tibor and Maira Kalman's love for ephemera. I never forgot that."
Adding the "leave one" requisite took the exhibition concept to another level. Placing a gold sticker noting "From the MAD MUSUEM COLLECTION" and logging all the objects in a ledger book made MAD's acquisition of each object official. Quito and her classmates Caterina Francisca and Sandra Nuut served as co-curators. "We hoped to engage as many 'critics' and 'curators' as possible," Quito says, "and challenge the traditional curatorial cycle/hierarchies. The fact that we were given prime lobby space (rather than a studio on the 6th floor) was critical. The fact that it was free and open to the public reinforced the democratic spirit behind the concept."