Dust - The Most Interesting Thing at the MoMA?

While staring at these dust bunnies in a museum characterized by its clean and stark white walls, you might wonder why you’re not spending time with the Eva Hesse sculptures to your right (as will your fellow museum goers, who may congregate around the ledge out of magnetic curiosity). However, this stop, like all those on the guide, encourages a deeper understanding of MoMA.


What is the story of your institution’s audio tour? If you have one, chances are it is a series of interviews, facts about an artist or time-period, descriptions of an artifact, etc. Have you thought about what the actual story is, though? How your audience is interpreting what they are hearing, and how it is affecting their impression of the museum? MoMA took a very interesting approach to the stories in their audio guide, with a sequence of stops 100% focused on one of my personal enemies – DUST! What is so special and important about dust? Artist Nina Katchadourian takes listeners on her personal investigation. Dust at the MoMA tells a story.

Ellen Davis, Intern in Conservation, remarks how “MoMA has very unique dust… it is the same everywhere in the museum.” The two women then laugh while looking through a microscope at how colorful the dust is. It reflects each and every visitor who shed clothing fibers and skin cells everyday in this space. Julio Vasquez, Director of Building Operations, is an expert in the museum’s airflow and dust accumulation, knowing all the dusts’ favorite hang out spots. When a visitor complains to security John McPherson about the dust, he exclaims “use your imagination a little bit!” relating examining the dust to examining art. Jim Orr, Lobby Manager concludes that “It’s a microcosm of our lobby.” Dust on a Helicopter cable drives Nelson Nieves in Building Operations nuts; “it’s taunting me, it’s laughing at me and I can’t get to it!” The staff even uses “aerospace grade wipes” to give a careful, but effective, wipe to some of the most precious artifacts. “There are ritualistic aspects to dusting here” describes a seasoned art handler. 

Each story is from an employee with vastly different areas of expertise – and dust effects each one equally. I love listening to each point of view, as it humanizes the MoMA. Museums do not have to be a sacred temple of masterworks for only the lofty or educated. Everyone can relate to the story of dust, and everyone can appreciate the time, attention, and care that goes into the upkeep of this amazing institution. A good story makes an audience see something in a different light. Nina Katchadourian does just that in her exploration of dust at the MoMA – listen for yourself! The commentary is light-hearted, and insanely interesting. MoMA has done it again, breaking norms and turning a traditional audio tour on its head. I can with certainty proclaim that I have never heard a story like this told at a museum. 

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We make audio tours, mobile apps, multimedia guides, podcasts, interactives, and superior story-driven content for the museum and cultural sector.

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