MoMA New York Audio Tour Gets Hacked

Hal Kirkland, 34, hails from Sydney and is the Founder and Creative Director at Audio Tour Hack – a collective of creatives that produce unauthorized and alternative guides in museums. From turning John Camberlain’s exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim into a ‘Transformers’ tour to the MoMA’s ‘Unadulterated’ interpretations by three to ten year-old kids, Hal tells Billabout how he’s shaking up the stale art critic.

Hit up the Photo Gallery from the event!

How did you come up with idea to start hacking museum audio tours?

I was researching the idea of hacking audio tours as a whole, and I was figuring out which museums had audio tours and how they functioned. I noticed the Guggenheim had an amazing John Chamberlain exhibition going on and I decided to produce a tour for it around ‘Transformers’ because everyone knew it as a kid. We had only three weeks as it was going to end soon, so we quickly assembled a team, got great writers in Mark Svartz and Catherine Fulton and then these awesome sound guys Antfood.

What was the inspiration for the Unadulterated MoMA tour?

The MoMA is such an icon in the art world and we knew it already had a bunch of audio tours; the whole point of the audio tour is to open the doors of museums and creative institutions to a much wider audience. Mark [from the team] pointed out how a lot of parents can’t go to modern art museums because their kids get bored. So the thinking was, ‘can we make a super kid-friendly exhibition that entertains parents as much as it opens up the potential for the kids listening to it?’ Perhaps by doing so it would get them interested in art and that interest will grow.

How did you pick which MoMA pieces to include?

We looked at what would appeal to the kids. The genius behind subjectivity is the fact that a kid’s face value evaluation is just as valid as someone who’s a professional art critic. When anybody looks at a piece of art, it makes them feel a particular way. They look at shapes and see what it reminds them of…but with kids, it’s the switching of the context of the works that is truly hilarious.

One of the key questions we asked the kids was ‘how would you have done it differently?’ We got answers like, ‘I think that’s in the wrong place,’ or ‘I would have painted it blue,’ and adults also often think like this with modern art.

What are your two favourite quotes in the tour?

Jackson Pollock’s Number 31 (in picture): “I don’t think it should be in art museums b/c anybody can do it. It’s just splatter paint.”
Warhol’s ‘Double Elvis” piece: “He wants to kill people, he actually stabs people with Brocolli…”

Are you worried about aggravating the galleries?

We are being super respectful of the gallery- we’re playing with context but we’re not out to disrupt anyone. The Guggenheim liked the tour in the end and were tweeting about it, which was amazing. Really we are trying to pay respect to some of the most creative pieces of art in the world and by having fun with the context, then we’re hopefully getting more eyes on it, and they inherently find out more about that artist anyway. For example, Jackson Pollock already stirs the love and hate in art; it’s a controversial execution that’s brilliant in its own way and resulted in him having a massive career. One of my favorite quotes from American painter James Whistler is from when he was sitting on the porch at the back of his house, he looks up at the night sky and says, ‘I would have done it differently!’

Would you like to continue making these tours in the long term?

Yes, ultimately we’d like to partner with other people and organizations to make better ones. We’ve got the infrastructure at the moment with the right mix of creative people and production people, but eveyone is donating their time- it’s a non profit for the time being. It’s not super new to provide another story about preexisting stuff, it’s been happening for a while, but there’s value in giving people a new, unexpected experience. These are still unofficial, ultimately we’re a collective who use storytelling to entertain people and to reinvigorate art and other experiences and are open to collaboration with other partners. From galleries to brands, to artists.

What do you think of the existing MoMA supplied audio tour?

It’s very informative, but it’s a little dry. I think some of the general public feel alienated by it with the mindset of ‘I’m no art expert’. A lot of tourists go to galleries because they think they have to, so they’re not going for this super-fulfilling experience. Art can be enjoyed by everybody, so why not make those tours far more interesting for the normal person! We’re not trying to compete with the gallery created tours, we’re just giving them another excuse to go see the same exhibitions.

What feedback did you get on the Guggenheim tour?

We did a small launch event where we got about 45 people there and it was really good to see groups of people sharing the same experience. There was this funny camaraderie because it’s this sneaky, alternative tour. I think the feedback has been really good and from it, we figured out how to streamline the process and deliver it clearly.

Does your MoMA ‘Unadulterated’ tour appeal to kids or adults more?

It’s sort of for adults because they will see the depth and the irony of the face value calls, plus they’ll see the fact that it is very much an alternative to the stale art critic explanations. I think kids are going to get something out of it as well because they’ll hear their peers’ explanations and it will democratize it a bit to prove that their opinions are just as valid.

Hacked ‘Unadulterated’ tour at the MoMA begins Saturday August 11th on Level Four – Go listen in for an alternative take on the exhibits!

The Audio Hacked team is Hal Kirkland, Mark Svartz, Catherine Fulton, Wilson Brown, Sean McGovern and Kelly Donahue.

Interview By Pete Maiden

UPDATE: On Saturday August 11th, Billabout went down to the MoMA to scope out Audiohack Unadulterated, a “hacked” audiotour on the fourth floor.

Hit up the Photo Gallery from the event!











KIRKLAND: It’s been a massive success, we’re really happy with the turnout and the fact that so many people are supporting it. It looks like everyone is having a good time and it was good to see some chuckling. You can really see the two crowds moving through: the people with the official tour, and those with the hacked audio.

Brock Busby- I think it’s great! The perspectives that some of the kids bring, like the Absolute Naked piece, I never would have thought that it was a piece of poisoned bubblegum for a giant! The stories and the imagination that they have is awesome.

Maxine Gurevich & Curtis Wingate- It’s hysterical! It’s kind of amazing how they put their own stories in it and I think that that’s the best part. Especially the stuff that is super abstract…a lot of giants, and Selena Gomez! Selena Gomez was

Beth Ryan- It’s lovely because children are honest, they’re just saying it like it is, like how they see it. Usually you’re here and you’re hearing a lot of bullshit and just to hear kids saying what they think is really refreshing.

Jake Blumenau- They have the best opinions of all of us. So far EVERYTHING is funny!

Howard Finklestein- I think it’s brilliant. I think these kids are incredibly imaginative and hilarious and it’s one of the most interesting ways I’ve ever looked at art!

Charlie Van Kirk (sound engineer)- My thoughts are that it’s really exciting experiencing this with other people and looking around and seeing the expressions without necessarily having to talk to anyone, you can get an idea for the shared experience, so I recommend visiting with a group of friends if you’re going to come.
How was recording the kids?
It was a lot of fun; one of the hardest parts was for us not to start laughing and make jokes while they were talking, witnessing some of the brilliance, both serious and not serious!

Photo Gallery from the event!

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