How a Quadrilingual Interpreter Helped MoMA Bring a Compelling Exhibit to Life

  • Client The Museum of Modern Art
  • Project Interpreting for MoMA’s “Transmissions” Exhibit
  • Service Interpreting

When New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) began planning its 2015 Transmissions exhibition, they came to Eriksen with an out-of-the-box request. The museum needed an interpreter, skilled in English, Italian, French, and Spanish, who had the right skills and demeanor to take center stage in a 16-week installation piece. Eriksen was up for the challenge and found just the right linguist to help MoMA bring a thought-provoking exhibit to life.

A plexiglass box, a telex machine, and an interpreter

MoMA, one of the world’s largest institutions devoted to modern and contemporary art, is well known for presenting significant, compelling exhibitions. On display in the fall of 2015, Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980, showcased works made by artists working in a time of political upheaval, and rapid changes in technology and communication. Included was a 1968 installation piece by Argentinian artist David Lamelas, Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels: The Visual Image, Text and Audio.

 

Upon entering the gallery, viewers were confronted with office furniture, a telex machine, a tape recorder, and a microphone enclosed in a large plexiglass box. In the midst of this carefully constructed office environment sat an attendant who intermittently read news reports about the Vietnam War in Italian, French, and Spanish. When the news was not read live, recordings could be heard through headsets attached to the plexiglass. This compelling piece investigated the shifting nature of time and communication in the “burgeoning information society” of the 60s.

A quadrilingual attendant

To include this installation in the Transmissions exhibition, MoMA needed an attendant. Someone who could become part of the installation and translate the transmitted news reports from English into Italian, French, and Spanish as they rolled out of the telex machine. MoMA came to Eriksen seeking an interpreter who could fill this role once a week, for the exhibit’s 16-week duration.

This, however, was no ordinary request. The interpreter had to have strong skills in not just one language combination, but three. That person needed the poise and demeanor required to be featured in an important installation piece for one of the most prestigious modern art museums in the world. The assignment called for an interpreter with the confidence to perform while sitting in a glass box in the middle of a gallery, under constant observation by a steady stream of museum visitors.

Finding the perfect fit

We had a strong pool of interpreters to choose from for this assignment. After years of supporting local schools, hospitals, businesses, and government agencies with interpreting services, we have cultivated an extensive, diverse network of skilled and trained interpreters. To work for Eriksen, interpreters must be excellent communicators with a high level of proven proficiency in their language combination. They must have discipline, attention to detail, and cultural competency. In addition, interpreters must possess the appropriate education and professional background for the assignment.

After diving into our pool of interpreters, our team carefully analyzed their backgrounds and qualifications to determine who would be right for MoMA. After much deliberation and some interviews, we arrived at the perfect fit: an astute Italian quadrilingual interpreter with extensive experience and a lifetime spent immersed in arts and culture. Born in Italy, she lived for many years in Spain before making Manhattan her home. As a musician and performer, she was comfortable with being on stage. And she had the right personality and composure for such a high-profile assignment.

Our interpreter fit the bill, and she executed the assignment with expertise, grace, and professionalism. We worked closely with MoMA to understand its needs for the exhibit. By drawing on our extensive and diverse linguist network, we were able to bring the artist’s vision to life with this complex installation.

Office of Information about the Vietnam War at Three Levels: The Visual Image, Text and Audio provided a thought-provoking focal point to the Transmissions exhibit, which could be viewed in a new context, with new relevance, by audiences from New York and around the world.