Visual Culture
What Having Your Museum Featured on a Hit Netflix Show Does for Attendance
By Scott Indrisek
Oct 31, 2017 4:34 pm
Courtesy of Netflix.

Courtesy of Netflix.

“Holy shit!” says Dev, surveying the fall splendor of the Storm King Art Center in the town of Cornwall, New York. “This is amazing.”

His date Francesca stops to admire the swooping fields, dotted with hulking Mark di Suvero sculptures. “Beautiful!”

“So…what is the Wi-Fi password?”

Jokes aside, this moment—from episode nine of the second season of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, on Netflix—serves up a glowing endorsement of Storm King, an outdoor sculpture park founded in 1960. Dev, played by Ansari, strolls through the site (and its perfect fall foliage) with his Italian crush—who is anxiously engaged to another man.  

Master of None has made a habit of plugging evocative locations. An episode in the first season essentially plays like a dedicated infomercial touting Nashville, Tennessee, as a fun getaway for New Yorkers. In episode two of the second season, Dev and his friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim) dine at Osteria Francescana, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Modena, Italy.

Courtesy of Netflix.

Courtesy of Netflix.

The weird thing about these placements is that they work pretty well. I found myself idly wondering what it would be like to spend a romantic long weekend exploring the honky-tonks of Nashville. A colleague at Artsy, in Italy for a wedding, chanced into a coveted two-person reservation at Osteria Francescana—a place that hadn’t been on her radar before seeing it on Master of None.

“Aziz Ansari has really broken down some accessibility walls for us, in terms of how easy it is to get to Storm King, and how beautiful it is once when you get here,” says Anthony Davidowitz, Deputy Director of Operations, Administration, and Legal Affairs for the museum. “[People think] ‘If it’s a beautiful, easy day trip for Aziz on Master of None, then it’s a beautiful, easy day trip for me to make with my friends.’”

Storm King’s Netflix cameo came about through Ansari’s own initiative—the actor had made a personal visit to the museum shortly before his production team reached out to its private events staff. (Ansari in general has earned a reputation for promoting other artists and institutions on the show, as Architectural Digest has noted.) “I have nothing but praise for how personally invested he seems to be in every element” of the show, Davidowitz says. “I think that comes through in the product they put out, and how it relates to the sites they visit.”

Courtesy of Netflix.

Courtesy of Netflix.

The first scripted mention of Storm King in the episode comes when Francesca tells Dev about an upcoming outing with her fiancee, Pino: “We’re supposed to go to this cool museum upstate…it’s called Storm King. Have you ever been there?”

Dev hasn’t—but he’s “heard it’s great.” When Francesca’s plans with Pino fall through, she asks him if he’d want to accompany her to Storm King. Dev—who at this point has about as much restraint as a lovelorn puppy—happily agrees.

Once there, the duo stroll Storm King’s grounds. They goof around, bury each other in leaves, and take advantage of the museum’s incomparable outdoor photo ops. Francesca poses giddily beneath the looming mass of Menashe Kadishman’s Suspended (1977). Later, Dev treats her to a running piggyback ride, with the undulating hillocks of Maya Lin’s Storm King Wavefield (2007–08) in the background. (The works are not mentioned by name in the script, but Master of None’s production team had to coordinate approval with individual artists or estates pertaining to sculptures seen in the episode.)

“We discussed how Storm King is referenced and branded,” Davidowitz says. “Master of None gave us an idea of that the episode would look like, and indicated that the Storm King name would be mentioned before, and while they were there. That was enough for us. We didn’t want to have a sign that said Visit Storm King!

Courtesy of Netflix.

Courtesy of Netflix.

That subtle touch seems to have paid real-world dividends. This year, Storm King began offering a shuttle running between the nearby train station in Beacon, New York, and the museum. “The first people on the shuttle asked, ‘Is this the Storm King where Master of None was filmed?’” Davidowitz recalled. “We had a private event request recently from a man who wants to propose where Master of None was filmed.” These newfound fans “might not know the name of Maya Lin’s sculpture,” he notes, “but they know that it’s the hills” from Master of None.

“We’ve seen how the show appeals to such a diverse group of people,” he adds. “And we’ve seen that slight shift in our diversity and demographics on site. That’s been fantastic, to reach new audiences in a way that we could never have done.”

Meanwhile, Storm King continues to collaborate with magazine and film crews, when appropriate. Davidowitz mentions recent photoshoots at the museum with the likes of Vogue and The Knot. He confirms that an unnamed HBO series also shot several scenes slated for an episode that will debut in 2018. My personal hope is that the show in question is the bighearted stoner dramedy High Maintenance—but Davidowitz, bound by a confidentiality agreement, can’t give a hint. “Well,” he tells me, “it wasn’t Game of Thrones.”

Scott Indrisek is Artsy’s Deputy Editor.