Pavlina Mladenova @ SPACES: mystery_art_shopping

Pavlina Mladenova at SPACES with mystery_art_shopping

Pavlina Mladenova


Image: Pavlina Mladenova, Mystery Following (2014), single channel video installation, 06’11”

May 31 – July 25, 2014

SPACES Gallery

2220 Superior Viaduct

Cleveland, OH 44113, USA

Gallery Hours

Tu – Su: 12 – 5 p.m.

Th: Open until 8 p.m.

Closed Monday

The interdisciplinary artistic research project mystery_art_shopping is based on the Mystery Shopping concept, used by market research companies to measure service quality or gather specific information about products and services. Mystery Shopping process measures and records specific elements of the customer experience through the use of pre-recruited and instructed participants who serve as mystery shoppers. 

Inserting art into the Mystery Shopping concept, literally and metaphorically, allows this typical marketing tool to explore alternative and new ways in which art and audience can connect. Constructed this way, the project mystery_art_shopping becomes a dualistic art experiment with two main playful directions for interpreting the project’s concept and processes: mystery_art and art_shopping.

The mystery_art aspect consists of the mysterious role of the participants: unknowing co-creators of the art project, in which they become creative partners with equal agency in its outcome. The mysterious nature of the project was a fundamental driving force in the exchange between the artist and the project participants. The tension created by the secrecy of the project combined with people's innate curiosity was a major motivation for them to work with the artist as participants. Participants were well-prepared and supported by the artist for their art shopping experience. In turn, their participation was crucial for supporting the artist’s objectives.

Art_shopping, the second aspect, depicts and analyses the experiences of the project participants while performing as mystery art shoppers. In the context of art, "art shopping" is synonymous with any kind of art contact, such as: viewing, ticket buying, asking questions of a docent, touching, reflecting on a viewing experience, etc. The “mystery art shopping” process follows the exact structural attributes of standard mystery shopping practices, combined here with artistic improvisation and applied to contemporary art.

The project began by recruiting a large number of people who were not pre-disposed to going to an art museum. They were asked to engage the mystery art shopping experience in a prescribed way that would lead them to notice things about the visit and the venue that otherwise might be taken for granted and overlooked, and to consider multiple aspects of the museum experience and the art being presented. Some mystery art shoppers were secretly followed by third party project participants equipped with a digital camera in order to visually record the actual situation of mystery shopping performances. After the visit, filling out a questionnaire and conducting a short video interview deepened the mystery art shopping experience by insisting that participants recall and share the visit in detail, and comment and reflect on what they saw and felt. All the data, thoughts, photos, and videos that participants generated became part of the manifestation of the mystery_art_shopping outcome on display at SPACES. As mystery shopping practices typically require, all participants in the project received monetary compensation for their time and effort.

Participants in the project were primarily students from Monte Ahuja College of Business at Cleveland State University and the object of mystery_art_shopping study was the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. This project was carried out in secret in order to preserve the quality and accuracy of the research process and data collected.

Furthermore, mystery_art_shopping marks the launch of the Mystery Art Shopping Clinic – a new methodology developed by the artist for the study and measurement of audience experiences with contemporary art.

The project mystery_art_shopping was conceived and executed during the Creative Fusion Residency, sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation and hosted by SPACES, Cleveland. The project was realized with the support of Cleveland State University and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.

Text by Pavlina Mladenova and Dan Kwong

Comments are closed.