Trip Report from MOCA and the Jewish Museum

MOCA (Museum of Chinese in America)

I went to the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) and the Jewish Museum this weekend. Both were entirely different experiences overall, but there were a few similarities in some of the design choices within their exhibits.

My first trip was to the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). The minute I walked in, I felt like I was in a modern setting. There is a ton of open faced brick, modern type face on their pamphlets (and website), and technology throughout the exhibits; but this didn’t detract from from the historical feel of the museum. I liked the juxtaposition of modern with historical - neither overpowered the other and I felt very welcome in the museum.

Navigation was pretty straightforward - there are four navigations points when you enter the museum. Downstairs leads to the classroom and education areas - I didn’t get a good look, the museum was having a Family Day to celebrate the Lunar New Year. To the left was an art exhibit and what I later found out was the exit to the permanent exhibit; to the right was the entrance of the permanent exhibit and another exhibition hall. There isn’t anything explicit for where the bathrooms are, but they’re right next to the staircase on the lower level. 

MOCA navigation signs. The Microsoft Word is strong with this one

Two of the halls contained one exhibit, which was surprising to me because having two parts of the exhibit on opposite sides of the museum was a disconnect for me (this is probably due to the main layout of the museum so it would be hard to fix). The art exhibits were very stark - with the exception of the the art on display, the walls were completely white. In terms of technology there was only one TV mounted that played a video on a loop, so there was nothing interactive in this exhibit. The captions were placed next to the art with the exception of a display; the caption for it was placed on the wall behind it which made it difficult to locate and associate with the display in the middle. Captions were a mixed bag here - some were descriptive and some just named the piece. They were hard to locate at times because they’d either be a little further away next to something else that was captioned in the same caption label or they were hard to read. There was one that stretched up to the ceiling and was thin enough that it blended into the wood a little.

The core of the museum is the permanent exhibit entitled “With a Single Step” that walked you through the history of Chinese immigrants coming to America and the social issues they faced. I unfortunately started at the wrong end of the exhibit but I had the opportunity to look at the interactive parts of the exhibit. I think my favorite was this chair that was placed next to the wall almost at random. I went to sit down and immediately triggered a sensor that started an audio clip of questions asked of Chinese immigrants when they first entered the United States. It startled me and made me feel pressured as the voice on the clip got increasingly more aggressive, but once I saw the caption next to the chair and realized what was happening I enjoyed it immensely! I didn’t get to observe people interact with the exhibit since there were Lunar New Year activities for kids happening in another part of the museum. Overall I enjoyed the exhibit - the transition through the exhibit mimicked the timeline it followed and for the most part made sense (the exception of where they put the shop exhibit, that felt a touch out of place). However, one thing that I noticed was that some of the items that might interest kids were too high up for them to reach.

I visited the website after I went to the museum and to me it felt like it tied into the museum’s experience very well. I’d probably look at it again since they rotate out their exhibits and post updates about events/activities at the museum. The hours and address were on the first page so it was zero clicks

I’m not sure I would go back; for me the most entertaining part was the permanent exhibit which isn’t enough of a draw for me to want to go back. It was a good experience for me though, I left feeling energized and ready for my second museum trip

The Jewish Museum

I visited the website and it was this odd mix of modern responsive design with old 90’s style web design. I think I thought of that because of the bright blue in the palette that they use on the website and because the font felt older and chunky. There were no clicks required to find the hours, they’re right on the home page near the top.

It turns out that the website was a pretty good representation of the museum, which was full of exhibits that felt very old with sporadic updates such as lit up metal captions throughout the exhibits. Where MOCA had left me energized, the Jewish Museum was exhausting to me. There is one word to describe the feeling of the museum when I stepped in, and that was grand. The entrance has white marble everywhere with an older architecture, and it was beautiful. The rest of the museum however has a very different feel, like parts of it have been updated while others have not. The artist gallery on the first floor, for example, is reminiscent of the entrance with white walls and accents and a dark floor. However, the rest of the exhibit felt very old in comparison.

There’s a problem with how to navigate this museum - the permanent exhibits cover the history of Judaism but the chronological start is on the fourth floor. The only way to know about this is to read the brochure, there is no other place that tells you to start at the top and work your way down. There are instructions on the staircase that tell you what’s on each floor, but the descriptions are vague

From an interactive perspective, the only thing that I felt was kind of interactive (and even that’s a stretch) was this little cafe setting where you could sit and take what looks like an older phone to listen to stories from all over the world. Other than that there wasn’t any interactivity going on at all - all of the items on display were tucked behind glass or rope displays. Almost all the visitors I saw were middle aged men and women, and I say that only because I think I saw one or two kids during the time I was there.

The captions for the museum were fairly wordy - some exhibits had the caption next to the item while others had the caption on a lit up metal bench like display (see picture). Some objects had a paragraph of text, but the way that each caption was designed made it hard to distinguish what the most important information was - the name of the piece, what it was made from and where it had been found, who donated it, and the description (if available) were all the same font and practically the same size. It was not engaging at all.

I probably wouldn’t visit the website of this museum again because I didn’t enjoy the experience I had at this museum. Some of the missed opportunities at the museum are having a clear indicator of where to start your tour (the person at the front desk didn’t even tell us to start there) and making the objects themselves more at the forefront rather than placing the emphasis on the captions.  If I had to describe this museum in a few words, I would choose 'older' and 'bland'.