"Rhetorical Image Resource Room: A Viewer Participation Project of The New Museum of Contemporary Art"
December 9 1990 - February 3 1991

The Resource Room is a gallery reserved for viewers to examine supplementary materials related to “Rhetorical Image” and to engage with the exhibition’s critical issues. Viewers filled out postcards in response to questions like “How do you understand a work of art?” and “How do you see your role as a member of the museum’s audience? How do you think the museum perceives you?” The museum received over 4,000 responses over the nine weeks of the project. By asking viewers to think about the museum as a constructed space with its own assumptions and expectations, the Resource Room continues “Rhetorical Image”’s consideration of strategies the arts use to respond to politics.

“The Rhetorical Image Resource Room was intended to disrupt the passive role offered to visitors in most museums, to actively engage participants in a critical and analytical process, and to foreground the value of viewers’ experiences in art interpretation. It aimed to demonstrate that meaning is not a pre-existing entity lurking below the surface which only the scholar can uncover using the special tools of expertise, but is something which is socially constructed, fragmentary, and contingent on the position of the “knower.” Our goal was to subtly shift the discursive focus onto voices which are seldom, if ever heard, to blur the distinction between speaker and listener, and to problematize the separation between authoritative and nonauthoritative positions within the museum. In the process, we hoped to create a vehicle through which the Museum’s staff could learn more about what really happens for people when they visit a museum, not what we hope or imagine happens.”1

1Susan Cahan and Julie Ault, “Introduction,”Rhetorical Image(New York: The New Museum, 1991).

Guest curator
New Museum curator
Courtesy the artist and New Museum, New York