When art doesn’t take itself too seriously: April Fool’s Day jokes in museums

The common thought says that museums are dusty places, fool of old things that only few people can comprehend, and obviously not amazing at all. Museums, instead, don’t want (and don’t have to) resemble to this description, so they are looking for to communicate their diversity. This fact encourages them to create some funny initiatives which can draw the attention of the public and improve their image, as you can note in the following examples, that are all thought in conjunction with the April Fool’s Day.

NEW YORK, NY – April 1, 2013 – We are pleased to announce that beginning today, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will begin construction to expand the original Frank Lloyd Wright design by an additional 13 floors. How do you like our new look?

This is the notice posted by Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of New York in his Facebook page, which caused a wave of comments. Users for the most part understood that was a April Fool’s joke, but someone took seriously the post and cried to the sacrilege of the work of the great architect. The museum moreover didn’t dispel the doubts, but conversely posted a sibylline comment: “What if we decided we needed a little more of Guggenheim?”

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden utilized Facebook to communicate a perhaps more surprising plan:

Hirshhorn to Curate Outer Space by 2024 – The Smithsonian announces a plan to launch the Hirshhorn into low Earth orbit in time for the Museum’s 50th anniversary. Having judged the historic Gordon Bunshaft-designed structure “too freakin’ cool to remain on the ground,” the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents has formed an interdisciplinary task force to conduct feasibility studies.

In this case the users understood immediately the joke, also because the ironic post affirmed that “It will be necessary to rotate the structure around its central axis to establish artificial gravity”.

Another case concern the British Columbia Museum (Canada), which proposed a treasure hunt to its visitors. The organization spread some unusual objects in the museum, as an airplane in the coal mine or a cat food tins in the fish cannery, and invited visitors to map the spotting through tools available in the ticket office. Museum used an hashtag because of this occasion, and invited everyone to post questions or requests for help to find objects. This initiative perhaps could be thought better, involving more social network and new technologies in the game, but has evident positive aspects. The museum, with a derisory investment, was able to excite curiosity in the public, to amuse it, and to increase presences. Besides, it made more experiential the tour of museum collection, and it made less serious and staid his image.

This three examples show that the more innovative museum organizations are able, through very simple tools, to improve their imagine, and to prove to have sense of humor too. The museums, in this way, could no longer be perceived as sad and boring, but as a place where you can (even) have fun.


Francesco Zanibellato



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