Power to the People?

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BROOKLYN—Last month, the Brooklyn Museum unveiled “Click! A Crowd-Curated Exhibition.” But the June 27 kick-off was more of an ending than a beginning. Rather than marking the start of the public’s involvement with its artworks, as openings typically do, the opening of “Click!” marked the final phase of a nearly five-and-a-half-month project that involved the public at every stage.

The process began on March 1 with an open call for online photography submissions on the theme of “Changing Faces of Brooklyn.” By the March 31 deadline, the museum had received 389 photos. These were all posted on the museum’s Web site, where, during roughly the next two months, visitors were asked to evaluate them. When the judging period ended, more than 3,000 people had weighed in, and the results were tallied. The top-ranking 20 percent — 78 pictures — were printed and prepared for display in one of the museum’s galleries, where they remain through August 10.

The concept for the show sprang from The Wisdom of Crowds, a book by New Yorker business and financial columnist James Surowiecki in which he argues that, in objective situations where there is a right and a wrong answer, a diverse crowd often makes better decisions than individual experts. Shelley Bernstein, the museum’s manager of information systems, organized “Click!” as a means of exploring whether Surowiecki’s premise works in a subjective field like art.

A fun experiment, yes, but when a major museum lets the general public not only decide what to hang on the walls but also create that content, it raises the question, where’s the line between a gimmick and a good idea? “Click!” resides somewhere in the gray zone between curatorial responsibility and experimentation, and one has to wonder what effect a show like this has on a medium that many regard as easy to master.

ARTINFO decided to ask some industry insiders — photography curators and dealers from around New York — to share their thoughts about “Click!” Here are selections from these discussions, followed by links to the five full interviews.

Jennifer Blessing, curator of photography at the Guggenheim Museum
“The fact that the show raises a lot of questions and even criticism means it’s doing a job.”
Read the full interview.

Kristen Lubben, associate curator at the International Center of Photography
“I’d be hesitant to make too much of what this exhibition signals. It’s such a physically small experiment that I wouldn’t take it as too much of a harbinger of where they’re going.”
Read the full interview.

Yancey Richardson, photography dealer and founder of Yancey Richardson Gallery
“I’ve found that very often people who consider themselves non-collectors and untrained still respond to the strongest work, because that work resonates in a certain way. It’s like delicious food or beautiful music.”
Read the full interview.

Sarah Hasted, photography dealer and co-founder of Hasted Hunt Gallery
“What’s good about [‘Click!’] is that it brings attention to photography. What’s maybe negative is that it encourages the stereotype that photography is easy.”
Read the full interview.

Laurel Ptak, photoblogger and freelance curator
“It’s exciting to see an exhibition that takes the ideas of the Internet and tries to impose them on a more traditional art-going experience.”
Read the full interview.