Laia Anguix (Northumbria University)
‘A rather “fresh” smell of paint’: wartime exhibitions at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle
In the summer of 1939, the Laing Art Gallery (Newcastle), following advice from the Ministry of Information, hid away at the Northumberland hills the whole of its permanent collection. During the following six years, its empty galleries hosted a total of eighty-five temporary exhibitions, which received a record number of 900,000 visitors. These unparalleled numbers in the history of the gallery gather further significance when considering that the management was done with significant budget reductions and with only a third of the usual staff. Some of these exhibitions lasted less than a week and several of them were arranged within hours. Nevertheless, the staff’s capacity for organization and their speed of execution meant that the openings took place ‘to the minute, with nothing more as evidence of the hustle except a rather “fresh” smell of paint.’
This paper will analyse the design, the contents, the subjects and the management strategies of this frenetic succession of exhibitions, showing how the Laing was put at the service of the public as a cultural and leisure venue and as a showcase for propaganda. It will also demonstrate how the gallery successfully implemented new exhibition policies that evolved in response to the changing needs of the wartime context. The comparison with the exhibitions taking place at other British regional galleries during the same period will ultimately pay tribute to the resilience of these institutions, acknowledging their ability to keep urban cultural life active during troubled times.
Laia Anguix has recently been awarded a PhD in museum history at Northumbria University. Her thesis, entitled ‘From wood shavings to an art collection: the early history of the Laing Art Gallery (Newcastle) and the creation of its permanent collection (1904-1957)’, aims to provide a better understanding of the origins of the Laing’s permanent collections. Her latest articles are ‘“A collection of mere travesties of time-honoured originals”: The rejection of the Shipley bequest’ (Journal of the History of Collections, 2020) and ‘The North-East can make it: Post-war design exhibitions at the Laing Art Gallery’ (Journal of Design History, forthcoming). She has also written several entries on historical London dealers for the Art Market Dictionary (De Gruyter, forthcoming) and has co-authored the guidebook Valencia Museos y Monumentos (Publicacions de la Universitat de Valencia, 2007).
Samuel Aylett (Open University)
Designing imperial London at the Museum of London, 1976
My paper will examine how the design strategies responsible for the layout and spatial arrangements of the 1976 permanent galleries at the Museum of London shaped the historical interpretation, and in particular the place and value of empire within the Museum’s history of the development of London. My paper will draw on archival material including original architectural drawings, design blueprints and the Museum’s 1976 guidebook, in an attempt to understand the relationship between museum design and histories of empire at the museum. Opened in 1976 by Queen Elizabeth II, the Museum of London was an amalgamation of the London Museum (1912) and the Guildhall Museum (1826), situated in the heart of the City, at the south-west corner of the Barbican Centre. Ironically, when the two merged after the intensive decolonisation of the 1940s and 1960s, empire played a more important role in the Museum’s displays, and in conveying the idea of London as an imperial city. Contrary to the ‘colonial erasure’ thesis of some historians, empire was central to the Museum of London’s interpretation of the development of London when it opened in 1976, resembling an old-fashioned Whiggish interpretation of unfolding success with empire as its apogee. This developmental narrative was shaped as much by the design strategies of Higgins, Ney, and Partners – who devised the galleries alongside the architects Powell and Moya – as the interpretive text curated in the displays. By attempting to reconstruct the design thinking behind the Museum of London’s permanent galleries, this paper will speak to broader lessons on the potential usefulness of the permanent exhibition’s archive and such material as guidebooks and design documents, alongside museum design history, in deepening our understanding of the historical relationship between museum design and histories of empire at the city museum.
Dr Samuel Aylett is a visiting fellow at The Open University in the Department of Arts and Humanities. He received his PhD in Art History from the Open University in 2020 with a thesis entitled ‘The Museum of London 1976-2007: Reimagining Metropolitan Narratives in Postcolonial London’. Prior to his PhD, Samuel studied History (BA Hons) and Modern World History (MA) at Brunel University London. Broadly speaking, his research is concerned with the place and value of empire in British culture in the twentieth and twenty-first century, and more specifically with the city museum as a site for examining shifting representations of empire and public engagement with histories of empire. His research is interdisciplinary, crossing the fields of imperial history, material culture studies, museum studies and critical heritage studies. More recently, he has become interested in the social power of architecture and the power that space and architecture assert over the museum visiting experience, especially how museum design affects the way the public understand histories of empire.
Kate Bowell (University of Edinburgh)
A history in labels: the science and technology label collection of National Museums Scotland
Exhibition labels perform multiple roles in museum spaces. Presenting information, contextualizing objects, and acting as institutional voices, labels are often an integral part of exhibition design and the visitor experience. Yet, despite their ubiquity and many purposes, little attention has been given to the potential of labels as historical objects and primary resources within museum scholarship. This absence means that labels, their materiality, and their content have been largely excluded from larger conversations around the history of museums.
This lack of research is due, in large part, to the absence of historical label collections. Few museums have label collections and even fewer have ones that are comprehensive. The science and technology label collection of National Museums Scotland is a rare exception. Comprised of over 20,000 labels printed between 1864 and 1967, the collection provides a unique opportunity to examine multiple facets of display practices typically hidden from view. From evidence of the invisible labor behind label creation to changing scale and scope of narratives presented by the organization, this collection presents new possibilities for engaging with the history of museum design.
This paper proposes to use the science and technology labels of National Museums Scotland as a case study to examine both the potentials and limitations of historical exhibition label collections as research tools. What can labels tell us about the history of exhibition design, visitor engagement and museum perspectives? Conversely, where might the authority of labels as resources end, and how can those boundaries be navigated? How can we reposition exhibition labels so that they are treated not just as tools for the interpretation of objects, but as objects deserving of their own interpretation?
Kate Bowell (she/her) is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh in Science, Technology, and Innovation Studies, working in partnership with the National Museum of Scotland to study historical science and technology exhibition labels. Previously, Kate worked as a museum curator in Canada, the United States, and Germany where she helped to develop and open four new museums. Writing about museums, Kate has maintained the website Museums Askew since 2011, and has contributed to three books, most recently Active Collections, which won the National Council on Public History’s Book Award in 2020.
Barbara Fahs Charles (Staples & Charles)
Total immersion: taking viewers on a journey
This paper, from the designer’s perspective, addresses several aspects of the conference, especially collaborative working, material culture, emotion and affect, and responsibilities.
Large traveling exhibitions, with everything—artifacts, art, cases, even walls—to be shared among venues, are a specific design challenge. Two that Staples & Charles created are especially interesting for immersing visitors in other cultures. ‘Views of a Vanishing Frontier’ (1984–85), developed by Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, to commemorate Prince Maximillian du Wied’s and Karl Bodmer’s 1832–34 explorations up the Missouri River, took visitors on the journey based on Maximillian’s diary. Over 125 original watercolors and drawings by Bodmer were featured in tall, thin vertical panels that could be joined in curves emulating the rhythm of the river. Huge enlargements of Bodmer’s engravings, lightly hand-colored as in the 19th century, punctuated the trip. Encased Native American artifacts and natural specimens, collected by Maximillian and illustrated by Bodmer, enriched the experience. The ‘Views’ pallet was natural linen and wood, letting the exquisite tones of the watercolors predominate. ‘Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia & Alaska’(1988–90),expressed cultural diversity and relationships among eight ethnic groups, four in Siberia and four in Alaska. Organized jointly by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the USSR Academy of Sciences, ‘Crossroads’ combined pre-1867 Alaskan collections preserved in Leningrad with artifacts in North American institutions from the 1897–1903 Jessup Expedition, the first to scientifically investigate the peoples of North Eastern Siberia. Fantastic garments, some made from fragile fish skins or bird pelts, were a special challenge. For these, unique manikins were created to express the people who wore them. The pallet of light greys and birch gave a sense of the cool north, underscoring the subtle natural materials of the artifacts.
For Bob Staples and for me, the solution should be so “right” that visitors focus totally on the story, people, art and artifacts, not the design. These two exhibitions achieved that elusive goal.
Barbara Fahs Charles is an independent scholar looking at exhibition design, Eames, and carousels and carnivals. As a partner and designer with Staples & Charles for forty-five years, she was responsible for history, anthropology, and art museum projects across the US and internationally, from Singapore to South Africa. After several years as a costumier in professional theatre, she first worked on exhibitions as a researcher and modelmaker at the Office of Charles and Ray Eames, where she met her partner, Robert Staples, then a senior designer at the office. Between four years at the Eames Office and the formation of Staples & Charles, she photographed carousels across the United States and designed several museum projects solo.
Kelvin Chuah (UCL, Institute of Education)
The crit as methodology: re-staging the 1973 ‘Instant Malaysia’ exhibition as intervention
In 1973, the Malaysian government initiated a national exhibition to showcase and soft-sell the country at the Commonwealth Institute in London. Realised by the London architectural group Archigram, ‘Instant Malaysia’ (as the exhibition was known) is an under-researched political agency of the then Malaysian government, with the pavilion becoming a façade for promoting the nation-state.
In 2019, I set up a crit at UCL’s Institute of Education (as part of my PhD research) to critically engage and develop a narrative for ‘Instant Malaysia’; still largely unknown and unpublicised. The re-staging of this transnational exhibition as a crit aimed to ruminate on and unpick a show without sufficient documentation. Only fragmentary information retains the proof of its existence. My research traces incomplete facts through echoes, meta-narrating previously unexhibited resources to articulate the exhibition. A reframing of ‘Instant Malaysia’ occurs by employing the crit as a lens to contextualise collated archival materials. Separate resources became webbed connections; mediating exhibition history derived from the Archigram story (and other sources) with an unexhibited political event; the 1969 Malaysian racial riots and its consequences. The complexity of these parallel developments underlayer the utopian exhibition display with embedded dystopian politics; widening the research by contesting a government’s version of the truth, news, propaganda, and state-controlled media directed at a particular audience (Londoners).
The presentation also traces many of my deliberations: the crit made it possible to walk through an exhibition before my time physically; it is a construction of a memory theatre; a place to analyse Archigram’s ‘Instant Malaysia’ images appropriately; make contemplations through my writings of the exhibition; to experience contemporary visitors’ responses – as a form of primary resource. Performing the crit, therefore, intertwines 1973 and 2019 content. These are the issues that I will be discussing in my presentation – how the crit (the exhibition, its re-staging, presentation, walkthrough, and the conversations this generated) as a site raises/contests fixed representations by employing the exhibition’s ‘afterlife’ as an intervention to enable my research to move forward.
Kelvin Chuah is a writer and researcher with a keen interest in Exhibition Studies. As an MPhil/PhD Candidate at UCL, Institute of Education, his research draws upon personal memories to meta-narrate forgotten Malaysian exhibitions initiated by the Commonwealth of Nations. Kelvin also looks for serendipity in archives and libraries in search of forgotten stories.
Sophie Cras (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne), Claire-Lise Debluë (University of St Andrews/University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne)
Exhibition design and the making of economic knowledge (19th-21st Centuries)
Economic knowledge generally appears as essentially abstract. From the mid-19th century onwards, however, many attempts were made to overcome the alleged limitations of conveying abstract information. World’s fairs and exhibitions performed a key role in that process. Alongside technical and commercial museums, they offered a tangible space to showcase the latest developments that were made in the field of social statistics, political economy or, to mention more topical examples, in the field of finance and banking. As the first mass media of the modern era, these displays, became an ideal platform to communicate economic knowledge to a wide audience.
As this presentation will show, turning economic knowledge into visual and material displays raised critical challenges. It took many forms and occurred in different contexts across the 19th and 20th centuries, such as commercial museums, world’s fairs, social museums or traveling exhibits. Recently launched museums such as the Interactive Museo interactivo de economía in Mexico (2006) or the Cité de l’Economie (Citéco) in Paris also provide strong evidence that the financialization and dematerialization of economy found, to some extent, a material and spatial expression in the public space. Bringing together many different players and intermediaries (including but not limited to exhibition designers, curators and appointed experts), who sought to give visual and material shape to abstract information, these exhibitions offer stimulating insights into the long-standing challenges of popularizing economic knowledge through design practices.
This talk will address the practical and epistemological issues at play in the making of economic knowledge. To do so, it will consider the following questions: What was the role of exhibiting economics and what was the goal of their commissioners? How were economic concepts, theories or artifacts displayed, and how did the exhibition design evolve across time? How was the issue of communicating abstract information to a presumably reluctant audience (collectively) tackled by the various players involved in the exhibitions? Building upon a wide range of relevant case studies ranging from the 19th to the 21st centuries, this talk will provide a genealogical approach to the history of economic knowledge through the lens of exhibition design practices and theories.
Dr Sophie Cras is Lecturer in Contemporary Art History at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her research explores the manifold intersections of art and economics, from the economics of art to the aesthetics of economics (The Artist as Economist: Art and Capitalism in the 1960s, Yale University Press, 2019). Her current project, “Economic Knowledge on Display,” inquires into the history of exhibitions and museums devoted to economics since the 19th century.
Dr Claire-Lise Debluë is a postdoctoral fellow and a visiting scholar at St Andrews University and Paris I University. Her research ranges from cultural history of design trades and professions to visual history of economic knowledge, with a strong focus on exhibition history (Exposer pour exporter. Culture visuelle et expansion commerciale en Suisse, 1908-1939, 2015). She received a two-year fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation for her current project titled “From Statistical Image to Digital Image: Towards a Cultural and Material History of Data Visualisation, 1870-1950”. She is co-editor of Transbordeur. Photographie, histoire, société (Macula Edition, Paris).
Patricio del Real (Harvard University)
Staging Brasilidade at MoMA
The exhibition “Brazil Builds” is credited with launching the international celebration of Brazil’s modern architecture and the culture of brasilidade. Staged at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943, this groundbreaking show was a collaborative affair that brought together diverse actors and institutions in the United States and Brazil at a critical moment during the Second World War. With “Brazil Builds,” MoMA became a platform where architectural aesthetics met politics. The exhibition was part of concealed and not-so-concealed networks that, operating during the war, managed ‘psychological warfare’ and nascent global postwar politics. It was organized by U.S. architect/MoMA trustee Philip L. Goodwin and architect/photographer G.E. Kidder-Smith, in collaboration with Brazilian colleagues and the National Historic, Artistic, and Patrimony Service, which was part of Brazil’s Ministry of Education and Public Health. The exhibition built new alliances – between modern architecture and tradition, the United States and the authoritarian government of President Getulio Vargas – in an eloquent celebration of brasilidade. It also acted as a Trojan Horse of Brazil’s official ideology of Racial Democracy in the United States.
I focus on the staging of this much-cited and well-studied exhibition and analyze how a multifaceted and racially charged brasilidade was presented in New York during the war. In 1943, Brazilian ideas on history, nature, race, and miscegenation occupied MoMA’s ground floor galleries. Through a series of juxtapositions, comparisons, and collisions, Brazil’s colonial and modern architecture made MoMA’s gallery a ritual space of modernization. I use archival research and a close analysis of the exhibition staging, as well as the works presented, to give evidence on how curatorial decisions enacted official cultural policies that advanced Brazil’s nation building project.
Patricio del Real is Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. He works on modern architecture and its transnational connections with a focus on Latin America. His current book project, Inventing Latin American Architecture, unravels how postwar politics and modern architecture came together at the Museum of Modern Art. Del Real co-edited the anthology, Latin American Modern Architectures: Ambiguous Territories (Routledge, 2012). He holds a PhD in Architecture History and Theory from Columbia University and a Master of Architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He was Visiting Associate Research Scholar and Lecturer in the Program of Latin American Studies at Princeton University. Prior, he worked at MoMA’s Architecture and Design Department, on several collection and temporary exhibitions, and co-curated Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980, which received the Society of Architectural Historian’s 2017 Philip Johnson Exhibition Catalogue Award, recognizing excellence of architectural history scholarship in exhibition catalogues. He was the recipient of the 2015 Ann and Lee Tannenbaum Award for Excellence in Curatorial Practices, given by The Museum of Modern Art Board of Trustees.
Gabriela Denk (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg)
Experience and atmosphere: three innovative exhibition designs by Hans Hollein
The work of Hans Hollein (1934-2014) was a crossover between architecture, design and art. Although his oeuvre is varied, he is still known as the architect of post-modern buildings such as the Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach. His work as an exhibition designer, curator and installation artist has only been considered occasionally. My PhD project deals with Hollein’s activities in exhibition making and places them in the context of his general work and exhibition history. In the exhibition field Hans Hollein conceived and designed themed exhibitions on design, architecture and cultural history as well as artistic installations. His exhibition designs were complex environments and ranged from artistic via theatrical to scenographical displays. In conceiving spectacular displays and generating associative processes, Hollein provided strong visual and spatial experiences for the viewers, with the aim of inspiring reflections; he addressed all senses by complex dialectic and collage-like confrontations. The lecture will focus on three museum exhibitions of three decades conceptualized and designed by Hollein: first, it will examine Selection 66, an exhibition about chairs which Hollein transformed into giant sculptures in specifically made architectural environments at the Museum for Applied Arts in Vienna 1966. Second, it will introduce the opening show of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York 1976, called MAN transFORMS, where he showed the daily impact of design through experimental installations. Finally, it will take a look at the grand cultural exhibition Dream and Reality: Vienna 1870-1930 at Künstlerhaus Vienna 1985, for which Hollein designed spectacular displays, showing the contradictions of the turn of the century in Vienna and including numerous reconstructions and scenic elements. The goal of the lecture is to show the innovative display principles of the three exhibitions, thereby introducing a case study of individual post-war exhibition design practice by a single exhibition maker.
Gabriela Denk has a BA in Art History from the University of Stuttgart /Montpellier, and an International Master in Art History and Museology from the University of Heidelberg / Ecole du Louvre Paris. She has worked as a curatorial assistant at the Künstlerhaus Bremen 2011/2012, the Fellbach Triennial of small-scale sculpture 2013, and the Kunsthalle Mainz 2015-2018. Since 2018 she has been preparing a PhD thesis on Hans Hollein‘s scenographic and artistic exhibitions 1960-1987 at University of Heidelberg, supervised by Prof. Henry Keazor with grant by Gerda Henkel Foundation.
Izabela Derda, Zoi Popoli, Tom Feustel (Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication)
From “just a collection of objects” to “only tech show off”: grasping a change and unpacking design approaches to multisensorial immersive exhibitions
In popular discourse, immersive exhibitions are often (and almost exclusively) associated with extensive use of new technologies and a high level of visuality. What is overlooked is the fact that immersive technologies are implemented to bring forth the narrative of the exhibition and to enhance the overall audience experience by providing inspirational and emotional layers. The multisensory layer, which surrounds and exposes the theme of the exhibition, supports the submersion of museum visitors in the storyline. For this reason, exhibition design is not tech- but story-driven, and digital methods serve only to reinforce the storytelling and create an immersive environment. New design approaches provoke a change from exhibitions understood as collections of tangible objects curated for structured exploration to active co-creation and co-production of experience by consumers interacting with the environment. In our research, we explore the shift from linear, curatorial-led exhibitions to multisensorial immersive experiences and investigate relations between place, space, story, technology, interaction and consumer in the process of exhibition co-creation.
Izabela Derda, PhD, is a researcher and lecturer at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication in the Media & Communication Department in Rotterdam, Netherlands. She investigates how new technologies influence the transmedia design and reshape content-medium-consumer-creator networks. The paper belongs to the NWO KIEM-funded project “Smartification of audience experience” aiming to improve flexibility to enhance audience’s experiences (in which she is a primary investigator).
Tom Feustel and Zoi Popoli are graduates of the Master Media & Creative Industries program at ESHCC involved in the “Smartification of audience experience” project.
Laura Dudley (University of Leicester)
Researching, writing and reconstructing exhibition histories as a resource for future practice: Palle Nielsen’s ‘The Model’, 1968/2013/2014
In recent practice exhibition histories have emerged as a knowledgeable and valuable resource, and yet it seems that the focus is still on the contextual and aesthetical attributes of ‘landmark’ exhibitions. My research is concerned with how we might remember and reconstruct participatory exhibitions in a way which emphasises, explores and reconstructs the collaborative nature of participation and exhibition design. I plan to examine how we might approach the researching and writing of exhibition histories in new ways, adapting to new contexts, audiences and institutions to encourage new types of engagement and co-production.
To consider these broader ideas I will draw extensively on Palle Nielsen’s ‘The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Society’. Originally exhibited at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, in 1968, the exhibition formed an ‘adventure playground’ in the museum which was open for 3 weeks. The space was filled with imaginative structures made out of foam with materials for children to create their own world.
‘The Model’ has been reconstructed and re-interpreted multiple times between 2009-2014 through archival displays, physical reconstructions and curatorial projects. My presentation will draw specifically on three examples of revisiting this exhibition. The cases I will draw on are ‘The Model: Palle Nielsen’, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen (2014), ‘Palle Nielsen The Model: An Archival Display’, Tate Liverpool (2014) and Lars Bang Larsen and Maria Lind’s curatorial project ‘The New Model’ (2011-2015). I plan to use archival and interview findings from recent field research to illustrate and navigate how these exhibitions highlight different strategies for collaboratively remembering the exhibition-making process. I plan to then conclude by considering how these could enter a dialogue with future practice and how historical exhibitions can play a role in this which is aside from aesthetically remembering a moment in time, but in fact has a current purpose and impact.
Laura Dudley is a PhD candidate at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. Her research concerns co-production within museum and gallery practice, exploring how the history of participatory art exhibitions can lend insight into present practices, and conversely, how the concept of co-production can affect how participatory art exhibitions are historicised. Laura is also Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Museological Review Museum Studies Journal at University of Leicester and is a project coordinator for a volunteer training programme, Make Works, at Derby Museums as part of the Museum of Making at Derby Silk Mill project.
Raissa D’Uffizi (La Sapienza University of Rome)
From design product to art through exhibition: the case of Italy: The New Domestic Landscape (1972)
Exhibition design can be decisive in communicating the message of an exhibition, creating spatial solutions which suggest a particular interpretation of the displayed works. The power of design is evident in the setting up of Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, an international exhibition on Italian product design held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1972. The exhibition, which promoted the artistry of made in Italy design production, was organized by the Argentinian architect Emilio Ambasz, curator of the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design. To underline the intrinsic social, formal and technical values of design objects, reproduceable by definition, they were presented in their unicity, fuelling a dialoguing opposition between artistical creation and mass production, museum and domestic settings.
The exhibition was divided into two sections, objects, a selection of 180 design pieces located in the garden terrace of the museum, and environments, a group of domestic spaces interpreted by 11 designers and recreated within the galleries. The objects were presented as sculptures: closed inside 60 wooden display cases and visible through windows, they were untouchable, denying the direct contact with human body that would be required for objects of everyday use. The environments, on the contrary, offered live experiences of spaces, which were expounded directly by designers through short videos on screens, recalling the modes of installation and video art. The exhibition overturned the modes of fruition: objects were exposed outdoors while the environments were exhibited in the closed space of the museum’s rooms, redrawing the oxymoron of the title which matched the closeness of a domestic space with the openness of a landscape.
Italy: The New Domestic Landscape provided product design with the means to be accepted in the art sphere. The big jump from house to museum, significantly affecting the construction of taste, was possible thanks to Ambasz’s ambitious project, which excavated in the common ground between product design and art to produce one of the most memorable exhibition designs of the last century.
Raissa D’Uffizi completed her master’s degree in Design, Visual Communication and Multimedia in 2017 and is currently enrolled in a PhD program in Design at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Department of Planning, Design and Technology of Architecture. Her research deals with Design History, focusing on made in Italy design as a cultural phenomenon, with special attention to its perception and its communication around the world. She has worked as graphic designer for art exhibitions in Ghent and Rome, and has collaborated with many graphic design firms, such as David Perez Medina (Madrid) and Noao (Rome).
Jihane Dyer (Royal Holloway/Museum of London)
Re-fashioning the London Museum: the making of Mary Quant’s London, 1973
Mary Quant’s London (1973) was the final exhibition to be held at the London Museum. Presenting the remarkably recent work of the Swinging London fashion designer against a backdrop of post-war urban change, it was staged on the eve of a pivotal transformation for the sixty-year-old institution housed in Kensington Palace. Unfolding alongside the exhibition, plans were well underway for the Museum’s merger into the new Museum of London which opened at the Barbican in 1976.
Unusually, Mary Quant’s London was principally organised by the Director of the Museum himself, Dr John Hayes. He worked closely, and arguably co-curatorially, with an external exhibition designer. Michael Haynes – an artist, leading visual merchandiser and experienced exhibition-maker – was a fitting match for the project: his contributions to the aesthetic development and characterization of the Swinging London scene were significant; he had created several early window displays for Quant’s Kings Road boutique, Bazaar; and had been responsible for the design of the first major museum exhibition of contemporary fashion held only two years earlier at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Haynes created a vibrant exhibition space for Mary Quant’s London. Dominated by his signature material Perspex, it played with notions of change, modernity and the urban fabric through contrasting domestic dioramas and shop-window-style displays.
Based on research on fashion curation in museums of urban history, this paper follows a case study approach that looks both behind the scenes of Mary Quant’s London’s creation and to its eventual manifestation. It draws together the fragmentary materials that survive in the exhibition’s record with photographs, reviews and video footage in order to examine how and why Mary Quant’s London, through its networks and design, negotiated the display of fashion for an urban history museum in the midst of rethinking its future.
Jihane Dyer is a current PhD student jointly based at the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway University of London and at the Museum of London. Her Techne AHRC-supported research explores the intersections between fashion, exhibition-making and urban geography in museums of cities.
Martha Fleming (Independent)
Floppies, trannies, a CAD and the blues: unearthing the traces of late 20th century exhibition practice
Effecting research into the processes and practices of exhibition creation, production and design in the latter 20th century is a complex activity. The range of exhibition archive materials includes – but is not limited to – 35mm slide transparencies, architectural blueprints, physical models, drawings from all stages of the design process, briefs written by both clients and designers, memos, multiple budgets, press films and photos, and personal accounts. This primary material is distributed unevenly across public and organized repositories, closed commercial archives, the personal papers of designers, often embargoed national bureaus of information, and more. Further, the period is also one of a slow but sure advance of digital technologies into design practice — from Compugraphic typesetting to vector-based graphics — creating a rolling digital divide and lack of retention of, or access to, digital files. This introduces two paradoxical problematics for design historiography. One is the problem of the researcher’s often limited understanding of analogue technologies, creating impediments to accurately reading the original functions of archival materials such as photography. Another is the inherent ‘timeline’ of adoption of digital practice, which can itself be a very useful historiographic tool.
This presentation will address the intersections between exhibition making practice and design historical research practice, touching on both practical considerations and methods as well as elements of their conceptual, theoretical and historiographic implications.
Dr Martha Fleming is an academic and a museum professional who has held research, curatorial and leadership roles in UK national museums including the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the V&A and the British Museum. She has both created exhibitions and published on exhibition histories, particularly in science fields. Fleming was the inaugural Programme Director at the Centre for Collections Based Research at the University of Reading, and has taught research methods for use in collecting institutions from within museum/university partnership contexts in the US, the UK and Germany.
David Francis (UCL), Luo Pan (Chinese National Museum of Ethnology), Lisheng Zhang (UCL/PKU)
Craft and creativity: (re)making exhibition design in China’s museum boom
Using the Chinese National Museum of Ethnology as a case study, our paper explores how the design language of the Creative Economy (known in China as Wenchuang) has proven to be an important source of inspiration for Chinese exhibitions in the first decade after China’s museum boom. Beginning in 2008, China has undertaken an expansive and unprecedented museum building programme with the aim of constructing over two hundred new museums every year (Sohu 2019). In the early stages of the ‘Boom’, the focus was on museum architecture, and the actual time spent on the design of exhibitions was limited to an average of three months (Lin 2017). At the same time, as this ambitious building programme was taking place, China was also shifting its economic strategy from focussing on manufacturing to investing heavily in developing its creative industries.
The Chinese National Museum of Ethnology is one of several museums in China that have begun to collaborate with designers working within the disciplines of fashion and product design to creatively reimagine how they remake exhibitions. Not only does this mean a new process of making exhibitions is adopted using collaborative working methods taken from the creative sectors, it also involves a remaking of the traditional design discourse by which ethnic minorities in China are represented in the museum.
Previously displays in ethnographic museums in China were characterised by mannequins and dioramas, which presented ethnic minorities as unchanging and frozen in time (Varutti 2014). Adopting the design aesthetic of the creative economy not only allows contemporary aspects of ethnic minority life to be explored, it also allows the Chinese National Museum of Ethnography to reposition itself as an institution. We will explore how this dialogue between contemporary designers and the inheritors of craft-making traditions combines to create a new future-facing form of exhibition design in China today.
David Francis is a researcher and practitioner who specialises in exploring the relationship between museums and narrative. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Archaeology at UCL where his thesis focuses on how models of narrative from literature, film and architecture can be applied to structuring exhibitions. He is currently a research associate at UCL on the AHRC-Newton-funded project Craft China: (Re)making ethnic heritage in China’s creative economy,where he is part of a research team exploring ways of creating new narratives around ‘otherness’ and ‘weness’ in ethnological museums in China. David has worked as an interpretation practitioner for fifteen years. At the British Museum he worked as the interpretation lead on several major exhibitions including Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam and A History of the World in 100 objects. Recent interpretation projects he has worked on include India and the World: A history in nine stories in Mumbai and Delhi, the Stamford Raffles and Southeast Asia exhibition at the Asian Civilisation Museum in Singapore and the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Dr Luo Pan received her doctoral degree in 2011 from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, anthropology major. From 2014 till now, she works as an associate research fellow in Department of Research, The Chinese National Museum of Ethnology. Her research interests include Cultural Heritage and Space, Museum Studies, and Political anthropology. Recent major projects have included “China Craft: The protection, inheritance and innovation of Ethic handicrafts” (National Ethnic Affairs Commission of the P. R. China) She now works at the Chinese National Museum of Ethnology in Beijing.
Dr Lisheng Zhang is a postdoctoral researcher for the UK-China collaborative project ‘Craft China: (Re)making ethnic heritage in China’s creative economy’. His PhD, undertaken at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, investigates the Chinese private heritage entrepreneurship through an ethnographic case study of the Jianchuan Museum Complex, China’s most high-profile nonstate museum. His current research interests include the appreciation and heritagization of the shakuhachi, a Chinese-Japanese Zen Buddhist music instrument, in contemporary China.
Roberto Gigliotti, Nina Bassoli (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano)
Mapping the landscape of architecture exhibitions
The research Architecture in the Age of Display, conducted by Roberto Gigliotti and Nina Bassoli, University of Bozen-Bolzano, with the collaboration of Léa-Catherine Szackza, is devoted to mapping the landscape of architecture exhibitions between 2001 and 2020. In the framework of the topic “Museum Exhibition Design”, architecture exhibitions represent a peculiar case in terms of spatial and exhibit design. Due to the impossibility of showing architecture in presentia, showing architecture means usually reproducing it. But what happens when the work exhibited in an architecture exhibition produces, instead, a new spatiality? The boundaries between set design and work of art blur, and the exhibition becomes a ‘thing’ in itself. We consider exhibitions as original objects, and we analyse their shape in architectural terms, as if they were further architectures. In this paper we want to present in detail our methodological approach, based on the visualization of different panoramas of relationships between significant architecture exhibitions of the last 20 years, through the construction of info-graphics and/or maps. Starting from a grid of categories or keywords, the map allows us to interweave a system of relationships that is articulated and synthetic at the same time. The main references for our approach are the seminal evolution diagram The Century is Over Evolutionary Tree of Twentieth-Century Architecture by Charles Jencks (2000) and the more recent taxonomy map Well Into the 21st Century by Alejandro Zaera-Polo (2016). The practice of drawing – a device embedded in the architectural discipline as a means to describe/analyse spaces – is (one of) the tool(s) selected for investigating and organising a defined number of complex ‘items’, such as exhibitions, that would be otherwise difficult to compare on a more scientific basis.
Nina Bassoli, architect and curator, is Research Assistant (AR) at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, within the project “Architecture in the age of display” with Roberto Gigliotti and Léa- Catherine Szacka. PhD at the Architecture University of Venice IUAV, she graduated at Politecnico di Milano, where she is currently teaching Architectural and Landscape Design. Among the several architecture exhibitions and events curated: “Reconstructions” at the Triennale di Milano (2018), the Turin Architecture Festival 2017, “Architecture as Art” (2016) and “City after the City – Street Art” (2016), within the XXI International Exhibition of the Triennale di Milano, and the Italian Pavillion “Innesti/Grafting” at the 14th Venice Biennale with Cino Zucchi (2014). Since 2008 she is member of the editorial staff of “Lotus international”, since 2016 member of the scientific Committee for Cultural Activities at the Milan Chamber of Architects and member of the Board of Administration at the Pirelli HangarBicocca Foundation in Milan.
Roberto Gigliotti (Arch. MLA) is associate professor of Interior and Exhibit Design at the Faculty of Design and Art of the Free University of Bozen Bolzano. His research interests focus on the exhibition of architecture and the public space of the contemporary city. He is currently working on the research project “Architecture in the age of display” with Léa-Catherine Szacka and Nina Bassoli. In the past, he participated in research projects such as “Educating Through/With Design: Enhancing Creative Learning in Museum and School Settings” and “Graphic Design, exhibition context, curatorial practices” with Giorgio Camuffo and Maddalena dalla Mura. In 2013, in the frame of the research project “Exhibiting Architecture”, he organised the international conference “Displayed Spaces. New Means of Architecture Presentation through Exhibitions”. He is vice president of ar/ge kunst Bolzano and founding member of Lungomare. In 2015 he collaborated with Studio Lupo&Burtscher on the exhibition design of the “Casa Semirurale” in Bolzano.
Daria Gradusova (Swinburne University of Technology)
Immersive ≠ virtual reality: a case study of three Hokusai exhibitions
The term ‘immersive’ today is associated with virtual reality (VR) and digital experiences. However, in exhibition design those types of design often comprise only part of a bigger exhibition experience. Considering immersion purely as a digital experience may limit the creativity of approaches to exhibition design in the future and skew the historical analysis of the current state of exhibition design practices. Therefore, I propose to reconsider the importance of foundational exhibition design techniques which facilitate nondigital immersive exhibitions.
This paper is a review of several contemporary exhibition design approaches that create immersion in physical museum spaces. It is based on the analysis of three Hokusai exhibitions (in Milan, London and Melbourne in 2017) and interviews with practicing designers (also in Milan, London and Melbourne). The paper draws on a comparative analysis of the exhibition designs of different Hokusai exhibitions, and demonstrates how combining visitor experience, associations, scale, rhythm and pace, colour and light in one conceptual narrative creates an immersive exhibition.
Daria Gradusova: A decade ago, while undertaking the Bachelor in Conservation of Arts Daria became interested in new ways of displaying collections. She went on to study Exhibition Planning and Design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, then worked in museums in the US and Italy for several years. Currently she is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Health, Arts and Design at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. Her current project concerns the notion of authenticity in contemporary curatorial practices and how it is reflected in museum identity, exhibition programming and communication. Her previous experience spans from interning as an exhibition designer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (USA) to consultancy in a small museum in Saint Petersburg (Russia) on strategies for a traveling exhibition.
Stephen Greenberg (Metaphor/University of Reading)
Sir John Soane: the first exhibition designer
We think of Sir John Soane as an architect; a re-inventor of the classical language; an antiquarian; a collector; a freemason; and even a disappointed father. But he was also a superb interior designer and colourist, his masterwork – his house that has remained unchanged since his death – a stunning example of museum design at its best.
The topic of this paper is a re-examination of Soane as a museum designer; a re-imagining of his house as the first deliberately, beautifully, masterfully designed museum space; and an acknowledgement of his immense influence on exhibition design today. Soane’s inventive use of colour, light and object placement is yet to be matched by any before or since. He didn’t need to use any of the masterplanning tools used today: no cones of vision, sight lines, visitor routes, capacity studies, case layouts, or wow objects. Instead, he lived the design, immersing himself in it. In the process, he invented mass displays, interactives, open storage, highlight object displays, and above all the seamless integration of content and container, the sheer theatre of display that characterises museum design at its best.
In an age in which museum design is hampered by clients short on funds, short on time and struggling with a cumbersome bureaucracy that results all too often in design by committee, Soane’s vision and his process offer key lessons we can all learn from. His designs have defined the exhibition design ‘industry’ as it has developed in the last 25 years: examining and unpacking his work and his legacy is essential to understanding where we have been and what we can become going forward.
Ultimately, this paper will argue that Soane is the first – and best – museum designer, an understudied but essential part of museum design history whose work still shapes museum design today.
Stephen Greenberg (Dip. Arch Cantab, Harvard; MA (Hons) Cantab, Reg Arch) founded Metaphor in 2000 as a company working exclusively in the Cultural Sector specialising in the design and masterplanning of museums, exhibitions, historic houses, cultural quarters and other heritage destinations worldwide. Stephen is an architect by training, and his exceptional career has included a period as Editor of the Architects Journal, as a partner in the international architecture firm DEGW, and as a partner in Greenberg and Hawkes Architects. He has built many buildings, designed exhibitions and galleries, received numerous awards and published widely.
Stephen is a key facilitator in Metaphor’s relationships, working both with Metaphor’s museum clients, but also with external advisors and stakeholders, trustees, directors, politicians and NGOs. He lectures and speaks at universities and design schools and is currently Visiting Professor in the new School of Architecture at Reading University.
Kate Guy (University of Brighton) and John Ould (British Museum)
Exhibition makers: Kate Guy interviews Jon Ould
In conversation with Kate Guy, Jon Ould will reflect on his career as an exhibition designer to examine the changes and continuities of the role and its practices and processes. The discussion hopes to explore the similarities and differences between exhibition design and museum exhibition design to consider what makes museum exhibition design unique.
Kate Guy is undertaking an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award with the University of Brighton and British Museum. Her project explores the history of exhibition design practice at the British Museum (BM). It will assess how museum exhibition professionals have responded to the changing contexts of museum funding, legislation and core purpose over the last 60 years — setting the development of the BM’s Design Office within the national context of temporary museum exhibition design practice. Before starting her PhD research, Kate worked as an Education Officer at Amberley Museum in West Sussex, UK.
Jon Ould (MCSD Exhibition Designer), trained at Twickenham College of Technology, specialising in Museum and Exhibition Design. After work experience projects with interior decoration companies including Crown Paints, he became an Exhibition Designer at the Commonwealth Institute, Kensington, where he spent ten years designing popular permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions. Since 1989 Jon has been an Exhibition Designer at the British Museum where he has continued to design galleries and exhibitions.
Kate Guy (University of Brighton/British Museum)
“Miss Hall and her busy, energetic design group”: the emergence of professional in-house design at the British Museum
In 1964, the Director of the British Museum, Sir Frank Francis, appointed the Museum’s first professional designer, Margaret Hall. The job description was vague, and the successful candidate later recalled that her only brief was to “see what I could do”. The decision to appoint a designer was not particularly innovative, by the 1960’s museums all across the UK had begun hiring professional designers. The exhibition designer Michael Belcher suggested that this was as a result of the “nation’s increased awareness of design.” Sir Francis and the trustees of the British Museum had recognised that a designer could play a vital and essential role within the Museum, but could not yet articulate what that role would or could become. Margaret Hall went on to establish the Museum’s first in-house design department, the Design Office, which became responsible for the design of all the Museum’s permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions. By examining the emergence of professional in-house design at the British Museum, this presentation begins to explore how and why museums across the UK came to realise and utilise the skills of the designer in the 1960s. It will consider the reasons for Hall’s appointment and examine the processes of exhibition-making she inherited, and how she set about to adapt, change and modify these practices.
Kate Guy is undertaking an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award with the University of Brighton and British Museum. Her project explores the history of exhibition design practice at the British Museum (BM). It will assess how museum exhibition professionals have responded to the changing contexts of museum funding, legislation and core purpose over the last 60 years — setting the development of the BM’s Design Office within the national context of temporary museum exhibition design practice. Before starting her PhD research, Kate worked as an Education Officer at Amberley Museum in West Sussex, UK.
From around 1900, some museums, curators and collectors started to display their historical objects in very different ways, deliberately rejecting conventional exhibition design in order to create environments which more directly replicated ‘life’ in the past. Folk museum staff particularly aimed to put objects into use, (re)building them, wearing them, sitting on them, playing them, and including animals in their collections; and to ‘free’ them from the ‘prison’ of cases and typological display.
This paper examines museums’ move away from conventional display cases under the influence of the open air, folk life/social history, and reconstructive approach to displays in the early twentieth century. It stresses the extent to which this was framed as a rejection of professional museum exhibition design which was felt to deaden and decontextualize artefacts, turning them into ‘museum-ified’ objects rather than the real stuff of history. Pioneers of reconstructive design were often museum ‘outsiders’, with no training or experience, and emphasised the ‘home made’, amateur nature of their displays; they were inspired by their own relationships with their objects, which were both emotional and sensual, to try and create such relationships between visitors and objects. Displays were thus often described as bringing objects, or indeed the past as a whole, to life, and enhancing their communicative potential. Moreover, the rejection of conventional display can also be seen as a rejection of the restricted sensory range of such displays – reconstructive displays formed an important intervention in the idea of opening up museum objects to smell, taste and hearing, and occasionally even taste.
By examining the growth of new designs for display, and the rejection of old ones, then, we can reconstruct changing attitudes to the past and how its material survivals were thought to enable knowledge and experience of it.
Kate Hill is Associate Professor in History and Deputy Head of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln. She works on the history of regional and local UK museums; her most recent book was Women and Museums 1850-1914 (MUP 2016). Kate is co-editor of the Museum History Journal and Chair of the Museums and Galleries History Group.
James Housefield (University of California, Davis)
Designed destinations: learning from the first museums of San Francisco
This paper proposes an alternative model to complement the narrative of grand museums that dominates histories of nineteenth-century exhibitions. By considering the first museums of San Francisco, California, this analysis proposes the concepts of experience design and, especially, “destination design” as useful lenses through which to achieve new understanding of the history of exhibitions.
Museums of art and natural history figured prominently in the identities of Woodward’s Gardens (1865-91) and the Sutro Baths (1894-1966). Although one could visit each site solely to enjoy exhibitions, a museum was merely one aspect of the larger experience on offer and the economics of the site. Alongside museum displays, visitors pursued varied pleasures, from picnic grounds and gardens to amusement-park attractions, bathing, balloon rides, musical performances, or other entertainments. Eadweard Muybridge promoted photography from his Woodward’s Gardens studio, and Sutro’s resident photographers offered studio portraits and exotic views. By examining these museums in the context of the pleasure gardens in which they were located, we can better understand their meanings. Although recent decades have seen new appreciation for the “cabinet of curiosities” approach to curation found in these museums, further lessons can be learned by considering pleasure gardens as sites of display and diverse public interaction with artifacts, objects, and narratives.
Creating a visitor experience at Woodward’s Gardens or the Sutro Baths involved a combination of distinct leadership and dispersed duties, often dispatched to artisans who remain anonymous. In addition to the unidentified assistants he hired to build vitrines or treat taxidermy, Woodward hired artist Virgil Williams to create a space for viewing old master and contemporary paintings. This paper investigates how Williams’ designs and the other sites of display juggled an array of exhibition practices to achieve a designed destination.
James Housefield is Associate Professor of Design and Affiliated Faculty in Art History at the University of California, Davis, where he teaches the Introduction to Design and Experience Design courses. Housefield’s research focuses on the variety of ways we design experiences. A former curator, he is especially interested in the histories of exhibition design, and modern cultures of immersive experience like those treated in his monograph Playing with Earth and Sky: Astronomy, Geography, and the Art of Marcel Duchamp (Dartmouth College Press, 2016). Housefield continues to research the histories of design, modern art, and their intersections. This paper is taken from his in-progress book manuscript, tentatively titled “Swimming at the Museum and Other Ways of Seeing: San Francisco’s First Museums and Exhibitions.”
Matt Isble (Crocker Art Museum)
Fostering institutional knowledge in exhibit design, fabrication, and installation
Maintaining institutional knowledge and fostering innovation is a perennial problem for any business, museums of any size and type included. This session will focus on those that take an exhibit across the finish line; from the design, to the installation, to the educational components. Attendees will learn techniques for cataloguing and sharing institutional knowledge, training and maintaining staff, and how to foster a culture of innovation.
How do you move forward without slipping backward? You retain your institutional knowledge and you encourage innovation. That may mean an improved documentation system, seeking and sharing advice between museums, or an enhanced staff orientation. Specific real-world solutions will be discussed.
Experienced staff with positive morale means fewer mistakes, fabrication and installation are quicker, and the end result is highly engaging. The audience will walk away with actionable ideas for onboarding new staff and retaining experienced staff. Maintaining morale is a central tenet when increasing the capacity of staff; fun and quirky ways of raising morale will be discussed.
The audience will discover how we cultivated a culture of innovation at the Crocker Art Museum, they will learn to recognize opportunities to help it flourish in their own museums. Without the building blocks of previous work history (institutional knowledge) coupled with experienced and efficient staff, innovation can stall. The audience will come away with methods of encouraging and advancing innovation in a time and budget friendly way.
The expertise in exhibit design, fabrication, and installation is often tied to the talents of individuals and happens behind the scenes. Since this know- how rarely turns into institutional knowledge, how can we effectively maintain and build upon the experiences of these individuals? This discussion will explore exhibit case studies and real-world examples to uncover how we can go from technique to training within a sustainable culture of productivity and innovation.
Matt Isble currently serves as the Director of Exhibition Design & Installation at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California, and has been working in museums for more than 20 years. His emphasis has been art museums, but he has worked in history, science, and children’s museums as well. He graduated from John F. Kennedy University in 2009 with an MA in Museums Studies, focusing on education and interpretation. His thesis work, Collaborative Constructivism: A Case for Interdepartmental Exhibition Development in Art Museums, was boiled down and republished in the National Association of Museum Exhibition’s publication, Exhibitionist, in the spring of 2010. Since then his focus has been on establishing a new design and installation culture at the Crocker Art Museum after the 125,000 s/f expansion in 2009. In 2014, he began building MuseumTrade.org for those that “get it done” in museums. Its mission is to serve the unsung heroes, those behind the scenes that make beautiful, awe-inspiring spaces for our visitors.
Diana Jeha (Independent)
Nicolas Sursock Museum design
Nicolas Sursock Museum in Beirut is a modern and contemporary art museum which opened in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1961. The Museum is housed in the private residence of an aristocratic Lebanese family which was built in 1912. During that era Lebanon was under the control of the Ottoman Empire and this is reflected in the museum architecture which integrates Venetian and Ottoman elements that were typical in Lebanon at the turn of the century. The museum aims to collect, preserve and exhibit local and international exhibitions.
In order to transfer the house from a private residential space into an exhibition space, an expansion project was undertaken in 1970 by the Lebanese architect Grégoire Sérof. Work on the museum stopped during the civil war and was resumed in 2008 when the museum underwent extensive renovation work which was completed in 2014. The museum reopened its doors to the public in 2015. The renovation added four floors beneath the museum’s garden which expanded the total surface area of the museum from 1,500 square meters to 8,500 square meters. This area includes additional exhibition space (special exhibitions hall, twin galleries, research Library, auditorium, two storage spaces for the museum’s permanent collection and archives and a restoration workshop, a store and café). The architecture of the museum provides all the necessary components for the museum to function as a conference and educational centre in addition to presenting collections and exhibitions.
The paper examines the renovations and designs that made the transformation of a private residence to a main museum in the Middle East possible. Unfortunately, the museum is currently facing many financial, political and cultural challenges all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. For the museum to survive the managers and curator have to balance between modernizing the museum whilst keeping it relevant to the Lebanese and Arabic Culture.
Diana Jeha (https://dianajeha.wixsite.com/dianajeha) holds a PhD in History of Art from Holy Spirit University Kaslik Lebanon and a Masters degree in Fine Art from The Lebanese University. She also holds a diploma in piano from the Lebanese conservatory of Music. Her PhD Research focused on critically analyzing the art work of the forgotten Lebanese artist Youssef Hoyeck. Her research interests focus on re-discovering forgotten Lebanese artists and evaluating ways to encourage art to the new generation in Lebanon.
Diana has participated in a number of conferences (University of le Mans France, Royal Anthropological Institute organised by the British Museum and the SOAS University of London, Lecture at Center for Art & Humanities AUB Lebanon), Atelier N 4 Hemed le Mans France). She will be presenting in a virtual conference in August: ACHS 2020-Futures, Association of Critical Heritage Studies Conference, at University College London, UK. She has participated in art exhibitions in Lebanon and abroad (Usek University main Library, Safadi Cultural Centre Tripoli, Vernon Park Art Gallery, Stockport, Candid Art Trust Gallery, London, first round shortlisted to visual art open Chester in 2018 & 2019). She has published articles in Lebanese journals (Chronos journal UOB N 38-39, Literature and linguistics journal N19 USEK, Mirrors of heritage issue N9 LAU, article online Uoh.fr atelier Hemed).
Sandy Jones (National Art Library, V&A/University of Brighton)
The curator-librarian at the museum: exhibiting graphic modernism at the V&A’s library, 1936-39
Between 1936-1939, Philip James, Keeper of the V&A’s Library, founded a collection of commercial art. To assemble his collection, he wrote to the artists and designers of the international avant-garde, progressive printers, experimental art schools and commercial patrons. The Jobbing Printing Collection, as it is now known, amounts to around 4,000 objects, the majority collected from May 1936 until the outbreak of World War Two (WW2).
James aimed to inspire and educate designers and producers by providing them access to innovative new practices and techniques, reflecting the founding mission of the museum. He also believed that commercial art had an important role to play in positioning British business as modern and progressive. Introducing his new collection with an article in Typography journal and an exhibition, Modern Commercial Typography (1936/7), he began to establish himself as an authority in the field and inserted the museum into the discourse of graphic modernism, at a time when it was not museum policy to collect contemporary objects. James was not the only individual who collected this type of material, Dr John Johnson, a trained papyrologist and printer to the university of Oxford had assembled his famed ‘sanctuary of printing’ for the same purposes and their particular modes of operation share many similarities.
The hand annotated works list for James’ exhibition was discovered early this year and provides a useful point of departure for this paper, as it shines a light on the role and influence of this interwar curator-librarian. The professional and personal networks he established as a result would prepare him for a successful career staging wartime exhibitions for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) and later as Art Director for the Arts Council.
Sandy Jones began her career in the design industry running branding and innovation design projects. With a particular interest in graphic modernism and printed ephemera between 1920-1945, she is a recent graduate of the History of Design and Material Culture MA programme at the University of Brighton. She co-curated the exhibition, The People’s Pavilion: Our First 70 Years (2016) and was curatorial researcher on The New Line: Works from the Jobbing Printing Collection (2016) at the De La Warr Pavilion, which led to the focus of her thesis on the Jan Tschichold Purchase at the National Art Library (NAL) in 2018. She continues to be a volunteer researcher at the NAL and was recently curatorial researcher on the scoping phase of a planned exhibition for the Design, Architecture and Digital Department (DAD) at V&A Dundee.
Marina Khémis (National School of Architecture of Versailles, ENS Paris-Saclay/ENSCI-Les Ateliers – Studio Adrien Gardère)
Exhibition design and architecture, inside co-creative processes: The Autun Museum in Burgundy and the Swedish Pavilion at EXPO 2020 Dubai
Today’s design process of museums and exhibitions involves a great diversity of actors and specialists forming a unique network of collaborators focusing on the visitors’ experience. The paper will focus especially on the co-creative processes and relationships between architecture and exhibition design professionals involved in designing museums and exhibitions. The presentation will explore the upstream work and behind-the-scene of such collaborations, often overlooked. I will also investigate how co-creative culture could become a new model for museum projects in the future. I intend to go beyond the usual design process antagonisms, such as the opposition between architectural envelope and exhibition space, container and content, functions and narrative, in short between architecture and exhibition design.
Rather than considering them as two distinct steps, the presentation will explore co-creative methods that bring together simultaneously both architectural and museographic expertise. More broadly, I will demonstrate how exhibition design goes beyond the sole staging of artifacts and contents within pre-established architectural projects. I will stress how exhibition design should be regarded as the art of weaving narrative within space, the art of choreographing visitors’ wanders.
Based on this assumption, exhibition design and architecture can be seen as complementary and consubstantial in the construction of complex narrative able to transcend the various scales, aspects and time of a project. Such co-creative processes can start as soon as a team — considered as a whole — tackles a program, making both function and narrative meet.
The paper will explore these issues through the practice and observation of two real case studies of collaborative design currently carried at Studio Adrien Gardère, exhibition and museum design agency based in Paris: the future renovation and extension of the Autun Museum in Burgundy and the Dubai Expo 2020 Swedish Pavilion. Though very different in programs and contexts, both projects demonstrate the possibility and benefit of conceiving architecture and exhibition, programming and curating, mediation and multimedia together.
Marina Khémis is an exhibition designer and a doctoral candidate, currently developing her research in partnership with Studio Adrien Gardère, a Museography, Scenography and Design company based in Paris. The Studio carries out major international museum and exhibition projects such as the Royal Academy of Arts in London (arch. David Chipperfield Architects), The Musée du Louvre-Lens in France (arch. SANAA), the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (arch. Maki and Associates), The Narbonne Roman Antiquities museum (arch. Foster+Partners) or the Future Adelaide Contemporary Museum in Australia (arch. Diller-Scofidio+Renfro).
This PhD is financed by a CIFRE convention, which aims to support doctoral research intricately connecting theory with practice. The research project explores the collaborative methods and co-creative processes that bring together architecture and exhibition design, but also programming and curating, from the very first steps of the creation of museums and exhibition places. This doctoral thesis in Architecture and Design is directed by Annalisa Viati Navone, from the Research Laboratory of the National School of Architecture of Versailles (LéaV), codirected by Nathalie Simonnot (LéaV) and Anne Lefebvre, from the Design Research Center of ENS Paris-Saclay / ENSCI-Les Ateliers (CRD).
Marina Khémis has been collaborating with Studio Adrien Gardère since 2016. After graduating in Space Design from Ecole Boulle in Paris, she completed her Master’s degree at HEAD Geneva (Master in Spaces and Communication), and then obtained a Graduate & Postgraduate Teaching degree, the “Agrégation” in Applied Arts, from Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS Cachan).
Solmaz Kive (University of Oregon)
Decorated otherness: the making of the Oriental Courts at the South Kensington Museum
This presentation discusses the creation of the Oriental Court at the South Kensington Museum in terms of its role in framing non-European objects in this early decorative art museum. The South Kensington Museum (today’s V&A) was originally established by the Department of Practical Art in 1852. In 1857, the museum moved out of the few rooms of Marlborough House to a much larger structure at South Kensington Gore. The building gradually underwent many changes. As did the institution, moving away from teaching the “true principles of taste” towards art historical exhibitions. As part of a rearrangement and expansion process in the mid-1860s, the museum created its Oriental Courts to house objects from China, Japan, India, Persia, etc. Its decoration was commissioned to Owen Jones, the renowned author of the Grammar of Ornament (1856), and well-known for his decoration of the Crystal Palace (1851).
Jones decorated the Oriental Courts with “Oriental” motives and geometric patterns. In fact, this decoration was a successful realization of a mid-nineteenth-century interest in communicating the nature of collections through gallery decoration. At the same time, attention to gallery decoration was also important in the context of the museum’s emphasis on “the principles” of ornament. Given the perception of architecture as the mother of all ornaments, the museum building carried the weight of teaching the correct decoration by example. This double function of the Oriental Courts’ decoration mirrored the broader tension in the South Kensington museum between art history and design theory. Discussing the making of the Oriental Courts in the context of the South Kensington Museum, this paper uses Jones’ theory of ornament to explore the interplay of aesthetics and art history in his design of the Oriental Courts.
Solmaz Kive is an Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon. She holds a professional M.Arch. in architecture and an M.Arch. and a PhD in History of Architecture. Her research explores the politics of identity in nineteenth-century exhibitions and histories of design.
Viveka Kjellmer (University of Gothenburg)
Smelling exhibitions: scented scenographics and olfactory communication in the museum
How can something invisible, like a smell, be exhibited and understood as meaningful in a museum? In this presentation, I focus on the meaning of scent as art, as exhibited artefact, and as an experience-heightening scenographic agent to create a multisensory whole in the museum. I investigate some of the curatorial and communicative challenges faced while working with smell as a bearer of meaning in the museum. Doing so, I discuss scented scenographics, smell technologies and design solutions in perfume exhibitions and olfactory art, where scents are used as communication tools. I highlight the sense of smell as a key factor in the sensory and bodily communication of these multisensory exhibitions. In the exhibition Art of Scent (New York 2013), perfume was exhibited as artwork, stylistically compared to art history. The exhibition Perfume (London 2017) visualized the fragrances in scented scenographies where the stories conveyed by the perfumes where conceptualized. Nez à nez (Lausanne 2019) exhibited perfumery as an applied art and used design installations to illustrate the styles of the perfumers. Belle Haleine. The Scent of Art (Basel 2015) exhibited olfactory artworks and installations, among them the smell of fear. This is compared to scented scenographics at play in contemporary visual art at the Gothenburg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA) 2019. Smell in the museum can play a multisensory role – to activate the body and the other senses. An exhibition layout with scented focus will also promote bodily interaction, touch, navigation, and interactivity. Olfactory focus leads to a different pace; instead of scanning the room visually and then zoom in, we have to sniff it out slowly. Visiting a scented exhibition forces us to be present in the scent, to slow down, and go where the nose takes us.
Dr Viveka Kjellmer is a senior lecturer in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She also holds a university degree in Economics and has a background in marketing. Kjellmer has published studies about the visual language of advertising, focusing on the image of scent, and has also written about fashion exhibitions and visual consumption. Her current research concerns costume, body and multisensory analysis, as well as scented scenography and olfactory communication.
Sandra Kriebel (Technische Universität Berlin)
‘Gesamtwirkung’: Wilhelm von Bode’s design for the exhibition of Old Master paintings (1883) as a model for future museum practice
In January 1883, later museum director Wilhelm Bode and an assisting committee of 15 art historians, collectors and state officials arranged an exhibition of Old Master paintings in celebration of the 25th wedding anniversary of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia and Victoria, Princess Royal. The loan exhibition was shown at the Royal Academy of Arts in order to present a new concept for the projected rearrangement of the Berlin museums, which were suffering from a decrease in public interest. In this context, Princess Victoria published a memorandum to promote her conception of an ideal museum display. She demanded that works of art should no longer be arranged in the current academic manner, which merely focussed on their historical value as examples of certain eras, schools and techniques. They should rather be recognised for their unique aesthetic features. In order to transform the museum exhibition into a veritable school of taste and to provide a lasting experience for visitors, the Crown Princess or rather Bode, who is believed to be the memorandums’ true author, wished for an overall aesthetical exhibition design, a “magnificent harmonious ensemble”. Instead of a strict separation of the art genres, they proposed a combination of various exhibits similar in style, presented within a setting inspired by the interior design of private galleries and collectors’ homes.
The exceptional design of this art show, which combined over 300 works of art from the Renaissance to the Rococo period owned by more than 50 private collectors as well as the German Emperor, has never yet been thoroughly described and analysed. Nor was its complex organisational structure examined, in which several agents from political, cultural, private and courtly areas took part. By presenting recently found photographic material and analysing contemporary reports and records, I will discuss the collaborative exhibition practice as well as the overall impression (‘Gesamtwirkung’) and spatial dramaturgy of this ‘ephemeral museum’ – one of the most influential art shows in the early history of German museum exhibition design.
Sandra Kriebel is a doctoral candidate at Technische Universität Berlin researching in the areas of exhibition history, private collecting, cultural policy and art sociology in the 19th and early 20th centuries. She successfully graduated from Leipzig University with a Masters’ Degree in Art History and Classical Archaeology. For her interdisciplinary Masters’ thesis she wrote on “Modes of adapting antique sculptures in the oeuvre of neo-classical sculptor Emil Wolff (1802–1879)” by applying methods of both her fields of study. Since 2012 she lectured in both disciplines as well as in Musicology at Leipzig University, where she specialized in interdisciplinary teaching concepts involving university museums and collections.She furthermore coordinated the teaching project “Leipziger Sammlungsinitiative” at Leipzig University funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. In October 2016 she started her Scholarship for Doctoral Students at Evangelisches Studienwerk Villigst to work on her doctoral thesis on “Temporary Museums and Social Showrooms. Old Master Loan- Exhibitions in Berlin 1872-1914” (working title). For her archive research in London and Paris she received the Gerald D. Feldman Travel Grant from the Max Weber Foundation (2017).
Jacklyn Lacey (American Museum of Natural History)
Putting Joseph Towles’ name in the credit line: institutional racism at the American Museum of Natural History
When the Hall of Man in Africa (now the Hall of African Peoples) opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1968, it was highly acclaimed. Critics and audiences hailed its efforts to tell African histories removed from the leering gaze of Eurocentric racial hierarchies. The Curator of African Ethnology indicated to the press that a major motivation in hall’s curation was to provide a place where New York City’s African American schoolchildren could find a “justifiable sense of pride in their heritage.” This was a relatively radical idea of inclusion and representation for the time, particularly in an institution like AMNH where the entirety of the paid curatorial staff was (and largely still is) white.
The space between the stated ideals of the gallery and the institutional history of the museum is filled with great tension. While the British, white, Oxford-trained social anthropologist Colin Turnbull was the curator of record for the hall, his partner, Joseph Towles, an African American man from Virginia, was a significant contributor. In particular, Towles led the development of a significant section of the hall that discussed the African American experience – likely the first inclusion of the Diaspora in a major ethnological museum display in North America and Europe. Towles’ curation of this section was informed by his own family’s history in Virginia, where several of his ancestors had been enslaved persons. During the time that Towles spent working without official compensation on the hall, several members of the Anthropology staff who were white supremacists conspired to curtail Towles’ access to their department. Turnbull and Towles left the museum and New York City after the Hall was officially opened due to this hostility and racism. Towles went on to earn his doctorate in Anthropology from Makerere University.
In this work, I examine the story of Towles and Turnbull while exploring how the Hall’s activation through museum audiences and critical reception has changed across more than 50 years of social history. I juxtapose these histories while parsing the concept of institutionalized racism through a series of specific acts of racism perpetrated against one individual. I revisit the tense spaces between what the Hall of Man in Africa symbolically activated in the exhibition’s triumphal opening in 1968, and the confusing and often disconcerting exhibition artifact the Hall has aged into overtime.
Jacklyn Grace Lacey is Senior Museum Specialist of African and Pacific Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she has been a member of the Anthropology Division since 2011. Her work at AMNH analyzes museum discourses on African culture and technology. Her recent work is exploring the intersections of infectious disease epidemiology, medical anthropology and the environmental humanities. She recently was named to the Editorial Board of the American Anthropologist, the American Anthropological Association’s flagship journal. She received funding from the Carter Center to create a multicultural, multilingual curriculum (“Politics, People & Pathogens”) connecting these topics to the ongoing special exhibition about disease eradication at AMNH, “Countdown to Zero.” She partners with medical practitioners describing the methods and politics of syncretic healing traditions in Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, as well as in Polynesia, the Caribbean and in American diaspora communities. An active museum educator, she has been a mentor in the AMNH Science Research Mentorship Program (SRMP) for 9 years, as well as a curriculum writer and educator in the Lang and ASP educational initiatives at AMNH. A recent publication of particular interest to exhibition histories, “Shifting Perspectives: The Man in Africa Hall at the American Museum of Natural History at 50” in Anthropology Now, is a multidisciplinary look at the curation history and context of this historically significant and contested permanent museum exhibition.
Lucie Lachenal (Independent)
Reconstructing the exhibitions of the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres through the archives (1814- 1850)
In 1814, Alexandre Brongniart, the director of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory of Sèvres, asked the Count of Blacas for permission to re-establish a tradition of the Ancien Régime: exhibitions and sales of Sèvres porcelain in the King’s apartments on New Year’s Day. Initially conceived as a private event, the presentation of porcelains to the King became a public exhibition of Sèvres porcelains at the Louvre in 1814, then from 1817 an exhibition of all the royal manufacturies (the Gobelins, Beauvais and the Savonnerie). Thanks to the rich archives kept at the Sèvres manufactory, it is possible to reconstruct these exhibitions that took place during the Restoration and the July Monarchy through different types of document: plans, correspondence, booklets, lists of exhibits, invoices, etc. These documents as well as the critical reviews published in the press make it possible to understand how the exhibitions were designed and for what purposes. For example, we can gain access to how A. Brongniart sought to highlight the pieces (placement, colored background, search for the right light, devices such as rotating pedestals, etc.), but also the place given to the spectators (distance to the works, frontal or complete view of the vases, etc.). We will also emphasize the central role of A. Brongniart in the organization of these exhibitions (negotiation for exhibition halls, imagined devices for the exhibition of stained-glass windows, edition of catalogs, etc.).
Reconstituer les expositions de la manufacture royale de Sèvres par les archives (1814-1850)
En 1814, Alexandre Brongniart le directeur de la manufacture royale de porcelaine de Sèvres demande au comte de Blacas l’autorisation de rétablir une tradition d’Ancien Régime : les expositions- ventes de porcelaines de Sèvres dans les appartements du Roi à l’époque du jour de l’an. Initialement imaginée comme un événement privé, la présentation des porcelaines au Roi devient à partir de 1814 une exposition publique des porcelaines de Sèvres au Louvre, puis à partir de 1817 une exposition de toutes les manufactures royales (les Gobelins, Beauvais et la Savonnerie). Grâce aux riches archives conservées à la manufacture de Sèvres, il est possible de reconstituer ces expositions qui se déroulèrent pendant la Restauration et la monarchie de Juillet à travers différents types de document : plans, correspondances, livrets, listes d’objets exposés, factures. Ces documents ainsi que les comptes rendus critiques publiés dans la presse permettent de comprendre comment les expositions ont été conçues et dans quels buts. Par exemple comment A. Brongniart a cherché à mettre en valeur les pièces (placement, fond coloré, recherche de la bonne lumière, dispositifs comme des piédestaux tournants, etc.), mais aussi la place accordée aux spectateurs (distance aux œuvres, vue frontale ou complète des vases, etc.). On soulignera également le rôle central d’A. Brongniart dans l’organisation de ces expositions (négociation pour les salles d’exposition, dispositifs imaginés pour l’exposition des vitraux, édition des catalogues, etc.).
Dr Lucie Lachenal gained her Ph. D. in art history in 2017. Her research focuses on art criticism and exhibitions of industrial arts in the 19th century and she did post-doctoral research at the Sèvres manufactory (2019) on the first exhibitions of art objects in France (1798-1850).
Dr Lucie Lachenal: Docteure en histoire de l’art (2017), mes recherches portent sur la critique d’art et sur les expositions des arts industriels au XIXe siècle. J’ai réalisé des recherches post-doctorales à la manufacture de Sèvres (2019) sur les premières expositions d’objets d’art en France (1798-1850).
Eric Langham (Barker Langham) and Colin Sterling (UCL)
Resonant exhibitions: when interpretation becomes artefact
Many exhibition histories continue to resonate in the present. This can be felt most clearly in large scale permanent exhibition and museum developments, many of which appear – on the surface at least – to have been altered little in decades or even centuries (e.g. Pitt Rivers Museum, the Capitoline, Italy). In some cases, museum interiors have even been given special protection to preserve their material qualities and unique ambience (e.g. The Pergamonmuseum). Other less permanent exhibitions resonate because of their wider socio-cultural impact (e.g. ‘The Family of Man’ (MoMA, 1955), ‘Documenta 5’ (Kassel, 1972), ‘The Destruction of the Country House’ (V&A, 1974). Such affective practices and material residues shape current and future museum experiences. To borrow from Sara Ahmed, “What passes through history is not only the work done by generations, but the ‘sedimentation’ of that work as the condition of arrival for future generations” (‘Orientations Matter’, 2010: 241).
This paper will explore a less visible but no less impactful strand of resonant exhibitions; namely, the afterlives of certain interpretive schema and devices within current museum collections and experiences. Drawing on a diverse range of micro case studies, we investigate the production, reception, conservation and sometimes re-display of historic modes of museum interpretation. What can the transition of certain objects and media from interpretation to artefact tell us about broader exhibitionary histories? How might such afterlives inform more sustainable museological practice? The paper concludes with a speculative discussion of the kinds of interpretive schema in use today that might be elevated to the status of museum object, becoming sedimentations for future exhibition design.
Eric Langham is founder and director of Barker Langham. Since founding Barker Langham Eric has guided the company’s evolution into one of the world’s leading cultural practices. Eric has an impressive global track record in interpretation and curation, having led the development of some of the world’s most iconic recent cultural projects. Today he directs Barker Langham’s creative, visitor experience and curatorial services. Eric is recognised around the world as a planner of new museums and cultural projects and has lectured and published extensively on curation, interpretation and museum masterplanning. Most recently he authored the lead chapter in ‘The Alchemy of Cultural Planning’, a new publication from the International Council of Museums, due for publication in 2021. Major projects include the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial, the National Museum of Qatar, the House of European History in Brussels, Oman’s ‘Across Ages’ Museum, the historical houses of Shindagha in Dubai and three signature pavilions for EXPO 2020. Eric is an expert advisor and mentor to the UK National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund. He is also a Fellow of the Museums Association and an Associate Fellow at the University of Exeter. A former Commissioning Editor of the Journal of the Association of Heritage Interpretation, Eric is currently on the Advisory Board for National Gallery X and the Foundation for Jewish Heritage.
Colin Sterling is an AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellow at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. His research investigates the ideas and practices of heritage from a range of theoretical and historical perspectives, with a core focus on critical-creative approaches to heritage making. He is currently writing a book with Professor Rodney Harrison on more-than-human heritage in the Anthropocene, which aims to expand the framework of critical heritage studies to better address the urgent problems of a warming world. Colin was previously a Project Curator at the Royal Institute of British Architects and has worked as a heritage consultant internationally, specializing in curatorial planning, audience research and interpretation. His first monograph Heritage, Photography, and the Affective Past was published by Routledge in 2019. He has a long-standing interest in the relationship between art and heritage, and is currently working on a new project investigating the impact of experiential and immersive design across the heritage sector.
Yannick Le Pape (Musée d’Orsay)
“Yet undecided”: features and failures of Assyrian exposure in the age of European imperialism
Throughout the 19th century, Assyrian artefacts were appreciated by European collectors and museum curators. Until the official excavations by Botta and Layard in the 1840s, little was known about these “miscellaneous objects” (as auctioneers of the time termed them). As a result, no real rules were applied to the preservation and exhibition of such singular items. The history of the types of display furniture that were designed for this kind of collection is still to be written, but sales catalogues, collectors’ testimonies and museum guides provide insight into the special boxes and colourful cabinets that were used. In France as in Great Britain, private and public displays of Near Eastern Antiquity had to contend with the evolution of taste concerning interior design and some collections were damned to temporary showcases for many decades. “The authorities of the British Museum are yet undecided how the Nimroud marbles are to be ultimately arranged”, said James Silk Buckingham in 1851. No doubt that the lack of knowledge about Near Eastern objects did create problems, and could explain the uncertainty of exhibition processes, but this ambiguity also says something more about the way Near Eastern antiques still had to face the old historical dogma inherited from Johann Joachim Winckelmann, whose History of the Art of Antiquity (1764) had excluded Nineveh’s objects from his study altogether. In the end, examining exhibition furniture and displays of Assyrian objects will allow us to better understand the objects themselves, but also a part of French and Victorian ideology that emphasised evolution in art, and imperialist, outmoded, exotic visions of non-classical collections.
A former student of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Dr Yannick Le Pape is Cultural Heritage engineer at Musée d’Orsay. Published in many scientific reviews, his current research engages with the way Antiquity has been considered by artists and collectors of the second half of the 19th century. Accredited as lecturer from National Universities Council, he has also contributed articles about art history and exhibitions to numerous journals.
Peter Lester (Independent)
The archivist as curator
What role do archives play in museum exhibitions? Often, they are used to contextualise the artworks and objects on display, to provide insight into the artistic process. Sometimes they are displayed as important objects in their own right. But they also help to showcase the important documentary collections held in museum archives and the work of archivists in bringing this material to wider audiences. Whilst there is an extensive literature around artists working with archival material, there has been less attention paid to the work of archivists themselves in creating exhibitions, as well as working in collaboration with artists and curators.
In this paper, I will examine how archivists working in museums think about and create displays of archival material, often shown alongside artworks and objects but, as in the case of Tate Britain, sometimes exhibited in their own archival gallery within the museum. Using a selection of examples from around the UK and further afield, I will consider how archivists conceive and understand their work in relation to display; the techniques that are used by archivists in museum exhibitions; and the role that archives are understood to play within the museum and art gallery.
Dr Peter Lester has recently completed an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Midlands3Cities funded PhD at the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. His research explores the exhibition and display of archives and wider reshapings of physical archival spaces. I am also a professionally qualified archivist, receiving a master’s degree in Archives and Records Management at the University of Liverpool in 2003. I worked at Nottinghamshire Archives until 2015 as Archivist (Public Services) and later Principal Archivist with responsibility for learning and outreach services, records management, electronic services and collections management.
Francesca Liuni (Rhode Island School of Design)
The aesthetics of depoliticized exhibitions
While museums question the premise of collecting and the agency of curatorial practice amid cogent debates on decolonization, the implications for the aesthetics of museum architecture and exhibition design remain unscrutinized. As Adam Hochshield recently wrote in The Fight to Decolonize Museums, “many museums were built a century or more ago by people who took colonialism, racial hierarchy, and slavery for granted” (The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2020). A reconciliation has been enacted through decolonial curatorial practices such as the recent University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum’s public engagement initiatives, political efforts like the debated 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and provocative display experiments such as the 1988 exhibition Art/Artifact; African Art in Anthropology Collections at the Center of African Art (New York). This last was accompanied by a publication by Susan Vogel, curator of the exhibit, who contributed to a discussion on how Westerners display “other” cultures, questioning curatorial and design choices. The issue of decolonizing museum aesthetics has been discussed by multiple scholars (Wintle 2016; Classen and Howes, 2006; Phillips, 2007). All lead to Phillips’ question: “why in the light of three decades of post-structuralist and postcolonial critique, do these object-centered and objectifying modes of installation continue to retain their exclusive holds on museum display?”
Most collections of displaced cultural property are still hosted in the controversial architectural spaces of Western museums. The contradiction between exhibited cultural objects and gallery space is primarily but not exclusively embodied by the history of the host buildings and the obscure genesis of the collections. In these settings, the Western aesthetics of architecture and exhibition design practices seem to embed a subtle form of neo-colonization: hence, the Hoa Hakananai of Easter Island stands alone among the polished glass vitrines of the British Museum and a 13th century Qur´an manuscript is rendered silent in the bright whiteness of the Aga Khan Museum of Toronto. Through a series of critical examples, this paper discusses the equivocal use of depoliticized aesthetics applied to exhibition design for displaying cultural objects in Western museums. If aesthetics are a by-product of a specific cultural, political, and socio-economical context, how should the hosting architectural space respond to the aesthetics of the cultural object? How can exhibition design, borrowing from Bourdieu and Darbel, prevent museums from “reinforcing for some the feeling of belonging and for others the feeling of exclusion”?
Francesca Liuni is an architect, exhibition designer and Assistant Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design in the Department of Interior Architecture. She holds a Master´s Degree in Architecture from the Politecnico di Bari and a Master’s of Science in History, Theory and Criticism from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she was part of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. She designed exhibitions for the Harvard Museum of History of Science, MIT Museum, MIT Compton Gallery, and the Rhode Island School of Design. She also worked for the Milan-based office Simmetrico Networks and for the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
Sarah Longair (University of Lincoln)
Designing the colonial museum display: pragmatism and collaboration
This paper will discuss what we mean by ‘design’ in small colonial museums in the first half of the twentieth century. In this period, we see, in particular in international exhibitions, examples of displays responding to modernist design aesthetics. In the colonial museums, there is less evidence, of the exhibition design being informed by particular styles or trends. However, by reading archives closely we can begin to understand how displays took the form they did. This paper will use the examples of museums in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam to consider how exhibitions and displays were ‘designed’ in these examples. It will reveal how curators worked collaboratively with technicians and local craftspeople to create displays, which were naturally determined by the types of objects to be interpreted and the architecture of the buildings. The case study in Zanzibar offers contrasting examples of displays in a newly built museum building and a temporary display in a former gaol, where cells were transformed into small exhibition spaces. In both examples, we see different ways in which the curator and volunteers collaborated with the local community to create the materials for display and shape the design. The displays in Dar es Salaam were created in consultation with the curator from Zanzibar, demonstrating how experience and practice was shared between the two East African institutions. This paper will suggest that such colonial exhibition practices must be understood as collaborative, and responsive to practical considerations, such as limited funds, and colonial ideologies.
Dr Sarah Longair is a Senior Lecturer in the History of Empire at the University of Lincoln. Her research examines the British Empire in the Indian Ocean world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with a focus upon material and visual culture.
Suzanne MacLeod (University of Leicester)
Museums and design for creative lives
Suzanne MacLeod is Professor of Museum Studies at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK. Suzanne trained and worked as a graphic designer before moving into academia, and now leads the field in the study of historic and contemporary museum and exhibition design. Her particular focus is on design methodologies and the potential of design in creating inclusive environments which foster relationships, equality, and enable full lives. Her instrumental publications include, The Future of Museum and Gallery Design (Routledge, 2017), Museum Making: Narratives, Architectures, Exhibitions (Routledge, 2012) and Reshaping Museum Space: Architecture, Design, Exhibitions (Routledge, 2005). Her new book, due for publication in September 2020, is titled Museums and Design for Creative Lives.
Louise M Macul (University of Leicester)
Political by design: the sneaky work of a colonial curator in Borneo
In 1955, halfway through Sarawak’s colonial period (1946-1963) Sarawak Museum curator, Tom Harrisson, commenced on a mission to bring the traditional arts from deep within the Borneo rainforest to the urban public of Kuching. He commissioned indigenous carvings and paintings for Museum display throughout his tenure as curator. But as part of a curious plan, he collaborated with artisans of the Berawan tribe to bring their tradition of painting outside of the Museum for installation in another prestigious space – the State Legislative Assembly cum High Court nearby the Museum. This paper will retell the history of this collaboration as an exhibition that was political by design, reflecting Harrisson’s view of the relationship between colonial and indigenous powers.
The meaning and value of the paintings changed over time, and they narrowly escaped destruction in 2004 in the renovation work of the Court House of 1874. Without any research or understanding of the intentions of Tom Harrisson in permanently installing the paintings in the State Legislative Assembly, there was a redesigned exhibition of the paintings in their original space in 2017. Surang Tiong, the only living Berawan artist of the original group of six, the curator of ethnology Dora Jok, and I collaborated on the exhibition project. Knowing what I know now from my doctoral research, how would have an understanding of Harrisson’s unique perspective and intentions of putting the fifty paintings on the ceiling of the Assembly/High Court have influenced the collaborative work and design of the 2017 exhibition? How integral are Harrisson’s intentions to the narrative of the paintings in terms of their object biography and historicity? And can a new exhibition, based on the original plan and political statement be made relevant to today? This paper demonstrates the value of historical exhibition research, including the importance of understanding the intentions of curators who may have collaborated with indigenous people, as we reconstruct exhibitions today.
Louise Macul is originally from Mt. Desert Island, Maine (US), and has been living in Southeast Asia since 1998. She is a third-year doctoral candidate at the University of Leicester, School of Museum Studies, which she started after completing her master’s in the same school. She has been involved in various positions in Friends of the Museums, Singapore, since 2000 and is the founder of Friends of Sarawak Museum (East Malaysia), an NGO supporting Sarawak’s heritage through its museums. Louise was the Executive Director (until she started her doctorate) and is now Advisor to the executive committee. During the past ten years, she has been involved in the curation and design of several small exhibitions in Kuching, Sarawak, and assisted in numerous community-based heritage-related activities as well as being a consultant to architects on the use of indigenous motifs and designs. Her doctoral research focuses on the issues surrounding the authenticity of the commissioned traditional paintings in the Sarawak Museum collection of the Berawan, Lepo’ Tau Kenyah and Kayan people. This paper is a result of a part of my doctoral research findings and exhibition curation experience.
Roberta Marcaccio (Architectural Association)
A load-bearing history: Ernesto Nathan Rogers and the Urban Agency of the Interior in postwar Milan
In the years following WWII, the Italian architect, editor, critic, proselytiser and educator Ernesto N Rogers (1909-1969) started the first serious critique of the modernist dismissal of history, accusing it of having favoured an elitist formal vocabulary that remained obscure to most, and irrespective of any issue pertaining to context. Rogers was determined to re-introduce history within the discourse and aesthetics of the Modern Movement. Not as a nostalgic or erudite quotation, detached from any social involvement, but rather as a load-bearing material for the architectural project; something that architects, as well as the rest of war-torn society, could make practical use of.
Rogers wrote no treatises and refused to compose a historical narrative of the Modern Movement. The means he chose to disseminate his ideas ranged instead from practice to teaching, from broadcasting to the editorship of magazines, through to the design and curation of exhibitions. With no systematic theory to be derived from his oeuvre, the exact implications of his idea of a load-bearing history remained a somewhat unresolved issue; one which deeply inspired, as much as troubled, the generation after him, affecting the development of postmodern discourse and aesthetics on both sides of the Atlantic.
Focusing on the medium of exhibitions, this paper will analyse the display designed by BBPR for the Sforza Castle in Milan, as a tool to visualise, make tangible and disseminate the core of Rogers’ theoretical speculations on history. Moreover it will cast light on the conditions which led Rogers, somewhat counterintuitively, to use museology and interior design to disseminate ideas about city-making.
Roberta Marcaccio works as a research consultant and teaches History and Theory at the Architectural Association (AA) in London. After graduating from Milan’s Politecnico, she received her Masters in History and Theory from the AA in 2010. Since then, she has covered various editorial roles and teaching positions, while her writings have featured on AA Files, Blueprint and in the books Real Estates (Bedford Press, 2014) and Erasmus Effects (Quodlibet, 2013).
Previously the Head of Research and Communication at London-based studio DSDHA from 2015 to 2019, in 2016 Roberta was awarded a 2-year Research Fellowship in the Built Environment by the Royal Commission for The Exhibition of 1851. Most recently she guest-edited an issue of Architectural Design, titled ‘The Business of Research’ (Wiley, 2019) and she is currently editing a book on emerging modes of architectural practice (Routledge, 2020) as well as a collection of English translations spanning the life of Ernesto N Rogers (MITPress 2022).
Beatriz Martínez Sosa (University of Pau)
Designing to decolonise: strategies on the rhetorics of display
The present of museums in the Global North is characterised by the confrontation with their colonial past. In recent years, the decolonisation of art institutions has taken an important place on their agendas, at the urging of publics that are becoming more and more active and demanding.
Rather than returning contested objects to their countries of origin or taking them out of view, I think that design may be a key aspect in the decolonisation process that major institutions are facing. Because of this, my paper focuses on the analysis of strategies implemented by exhibition makers since the 1930s to the present, all of which have in common a central interest in the rhetorics of display. Even if they may have served a different original purpose, I aim to show the potential of these strategies in the decolonisation process. Such is the case of French museologist Georges Henri Rivière, who changed the public perception of ethnographic museums in France thanks, mostly, to his innovative work on display cases, inspired by Surrealism. In a very different context, this is also the case of African American artist Fred Wilson, who, since the 1980s, has made the museum his medium and inspiration, working with the collections to tackle racial issues.
Rather than seeing design as a later stage in the making of an exhibition, I intend to reflect on the interdisciplinary effort that exhibition making entails, where design and curatorial practices may converge through the articulation of compelling spatial discourses to help in the decolonisation of the museum. I propose to analyse what we can learn from exhibition makers who have changed the way we see things — with reinvented taxonomies, visual tropes, shifts and ambiences, etc. — by working beneath the surface, thinking as problem-solvers who not only show collections but communicate through them.
Beatriz Martínez Sosa is a designer and art researcher. She has been working in visual communication since 2007. She is currently preparing her thesis for a PhD degree in Art Theory and Aesthetics, with the art exhibition as the central subject of her research.
Emily Mazzola (University of Pittsburgh)
Exhibition design and the politics of identity in the First Ladies Hall of the United States National Museum
How do you represent the body of a woman who also represents a nation? When Cassie Mason Myers Julian James and Rose Gouverneur Hoes established the First Ladies Hall of the United States National Museum in 1912, designing mannequins that would honor the presidency, the country, and the women of the White House was their greatest aesthetic and conceptual challenge.
The archive reveals a mannequin design process profuse with anxieties of regarding the slippage between the dressed female form, commercial display, and anthropological practice. Fearful of associating the First Ladies with the frivolities of fashion and positioning them as consumable objects, the founders rejected forms that too closely resembled department store mannequins. When the commercial sphere proved problematic, James and Hoes turned to the Museum’s plaster workshop and its fabricators who specialized in display figures for anthropological installations.
Embracing the display method of anthropology brought new concerns regarding the racial legibility of the First Lady figures, a concern amplified by the First Ladies Hall’s proximity to the Hall of the American Indian. Fearful the First Ladies would be mistaken for racialized anthropological specimens, James and Hoes designed ivory white classicized mannequins. The result was an exhibition characterized by rigid uniformity and pronounced whiteness, a legacy that continues to inform the display of the First Ladies Hall, one of the National Museum of American History’s most popular exhibitions, over a century later.
Emily Mazzola is a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh in History of Art and Architecture. She specializes in art of the United States, with a particular interest in political portraiture, female artists and representation, and exhibition history. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Connecticut.
Áine McKenny (University of Brighton)
Feeling through the Troubles: the emotions of displaying conflict
The word ‘difficult’ is frequently used to describe histories and subject matters that are challenging for museum practitioners to interpret, represent or display in the context of exhibitions. Histories are also described as ‘difficult’ where they may present challenges for museum visitors—either because they may evoke unsettling emotions at the moment of encounter, and/or because they deal with subjects that remain contested. Histories that include war, genocide, massacre, apartheid, state repression, or other forms of political violence are particularly sharp examples of these ‘difficult’ histories. These subjects may entail a close engagement with historical crimes or violences still ‘alive’ within the memories of the local population. This is particularly the case in contexts like Northern Ireland, where the 30 years of armed conflict known as ‘the Troubles’ has only recently been concluded.
This paper explores in close and critical terms some of the central complexities surrounding the act of interpreting and displaying the ‘difficult’ history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It considers the process of displaying the violent past within the ‘post-conflict era’ and how to engage visitors with a terrain of public memory that is still unresolved and contested. Specifically, it considers how violence has been presented in exhibitions from an emotional perspective. It asks how museum practitioners balance the effort to educate ‘outside’ visitors who may know little about the conflict, whilst respecting the experiences of those who lived through it without invalidating or retraumatising them. It seeks to examine the emotional communication and responsibilities of exhibitions in the decision of how to display conflict and violence in public- facing contexts.
Áine McKenny is a second-year PhD researcher based in the Centre for Memory, Narratives and History at the University of Brighton. Her research interests concern conflict, memory, ‘difficult’ histories, contested histories, oral history, cultural representations of the past and the display of these subjects in exhibition spaces. Her PhD research examines public memory narratives of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with a focus on the representations and absences of women’s narratives, and how these are displayed within exhibitions concerning the conflict.
Like our minds, exhibitions play tricks on us. Following in the footsteps of entertainers, sideshow carneys, escape artists, magicians and stagecraft technicians, exhibit designers incorporate illusion and deception to wow audiences and reinforce messages using a dose of fantasy and wonder. Natural history, science and children’s museums and themed and entertainment environments rely heavily on such trickery. Early automata and mechanical devices inspired modern-day animatronics, magic lantern theater and the Pepper’s ghost technique preceded augmented reality, and Victorian parlor games such as the thaumatrope anticipated flip and reveal didactic labels. From anamorphosis and trompe l’oeil paintings to Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirrored rooms, designers employ deception to powerful effect in their work.
This paper features historical and contemporary examples by designers who use these tools of deception and illusion to inspire people, transform exhibition encounters, and trigger emotive reactions. It will demonstrate the impact of design to shape these experiences and propose that without design at the helm and employed effectively, these experiential moments would not become lasting memories that inform and engage increasingly sophisticated museum audiences. The paper also concludes that capturing a designed experience overshadows its content. Although social media and recording platforms like Instagram offer powerful tools, they remain distinct from those forces that create immersion and establish lasting memories. This content is extracted from the author’s book manuscript that aims to chart a new methodology for understanding exhibition and experience design. His research documents the trajectory of exhibition design, professional practice and making, and introduces the design theory, techniques and tools used to deliver successful exhibition-based experiences across a broad range of venues.
Timothy McNeil has spent 30 years as a practicing exhibition designer working for major museums, researching exhibition design history and methods, and teaching the next generation of exhibition design thinkers. McNeil’s research and creative work seeks to define exhibition design practice and explore the exhibition space as a medium for the effective display of objects and the communication of engaging narratives. He is a Professor in the Department of Design at the University of California, Davis and Director of the UC Davis Design Museum. He serves as the primary instructor for undergraduate courses on exhibition design and environmental graphic design and is a thesis advisor for graduate students researching exhibition-related design theory, criticism and practice.
Elena Montanari (Politecnico di Milano)
Museographic heritage: the Italian legacy
The study of museum conservation is usually focused on strategies and tools related to the preservation of collections. However, in the last decades another component of the museum’s realm is being acknowledged as an area for the application of conservation theories and practices: museographic heritage. With this expression I refer to those groundbreaking spaces and designs realized by architects throughout the 20th century which have played a pivotal role in the evolution of the modern museum. This museographic heritage has served as a testing ground for experimentation with new solutions and as a catalyst for studies in the history of exhibition design. These works have a paradigmatic value, and bear witness to the development of museum culture and its complex inter-disciplinary implications (e.g. intertwining architectural innovations, material traditions, past and present ways of exhibiting and curating, stances on preservation, approaches to art and cultural heritage). Nevertheless, in the conservation of this material heritage, museums have had to come to terms with continuously upgrading their programs, instruments and spaces in order to meet new technical requirements, communication standards and the pressures of socio-cultural change. Hence, throughout the years, many of these masterpieces have been manipulated, damaged or even lost. Today, following the increased awareness of cultural heritage and its various forms, the complex state of museographic heritage is now being problematized, and new ideas about its possible preservation, communication, exhibition, and use in present-day contexts are being shared.
This contribution aims to provide an insight into the progression of this topic in Italy, which was the birthplace of remarkable chapters in the history of exhibition design, especially during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. In particular, the paper will explore the condition of some paradigmatic works by Franco Albini, Carlo Scarpa and BBPR, and the recent experiences that have been undertaken around this museographic heritage.
Elena Montanari is Lecturer in Interior Architecture and Exhibition Design at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies of Politecnico di Milano, where she has carried out research, education and dissemination activities since 2008. She has participated in several national and international research projects in the field of museums and heritage studies (e.g. the EU funded MeLa European Museums in an Age of Migrations), and she is currently responsible for the implementation of various activities promoted within the UNESCO Chair in Architectural Preservation and Planning in World Heritage Cities at the Mantova Campus.
Lisa Newby (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts)
The Living Area at the Sainsbury Centre: looking back to look forward
The distinctive display of the Sainsbury Collection in the ‘Living Area’ at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich encourages close looking, discovery and an engagement with works from a wide range of times and places. Conceived by Sir Norman Foster, Kho Liang Ie and the Sainsburys in the 1970s, the exhibition design is rooted in an influential and contested history of modernist approaches to collecting and display. Given that the exhibition design is permanent, how can these historical contexts productively inform future experiences of the Living Area?
To explore this question, this paper focuses on the relationship between the Living Area exhibition design and earlier public displays of works from the Sainsbury Collection at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in the 1940s and 50s. Taking the controversial exhibition 40,000 Years of Modern Art (1948) as a starting point, I will assess how reactions to these experimental and problematic displays at the ICA relate to the conception of the Living Area and its consequent interpretations. I argue that by looking beyond the specific concerns of Foster and the Sainsburys, the complex implications of their exhibition design can be more fully assessed. This activates the significance of these exhibition histories and their potential for enhancing critical engagement with the current display at the Sainsbury Centre.
Lisa Maddigan Newby completed an AHRC-funded PhD in Art History at the University of East Anglia in 2017. The title of her doctoral thesis is ‘Assemblage in Practice: Artists, Ethnography and Display in Postwar London (1948-85)’. She has worked as an associate tutor at UEA, as a museum curator and as a project manager for artist-led galleries and studios. She is currently a project curator at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich.
Joanna Norman (V&A)
Period rooms: between museum object and exhibition design
Like many museums, particularly in Europe and America, the V&A contains a number of historic interiors, commonly known as ‘period rooms’. Collected and displayed by the V&A since the 1860s, period rooms blur the boundaries between museum object and exhibition design, between notions of authenticity and constructed experience. Attitudes and approaches to them have shifted over time, in line – or in tension – with broader museum design trends: at times embraced and valued for their perceived aesthetic or atmospheric properties, at other times rejected on practical and intellectual grounds.
This paper will explore the liminal status of the period room in the context of exhibition design, with particular reference to period rooms in the V&A’s collection. It will discuss the origins of period room settings and their relationship to colonial and commercial practices of display such as international exhibitions, department stores and antique dealers. It will examine the translation of such settings to museum environments and the shifts in meaning that they have acquired and communicated as exhibition methods during the 20th century, ranging from ideals of domesticity to unified national narratives. It will consider the value of period rooms as a form of exhibition design in the 21st-century museum, the problematics they present to contemporary museum professionals and audiences, and the opportunities they offer for multisensory, affective engagement.
Throughout, this paper will highlight the complex networks involved in creating period room displays, including curators, conservators, architects, designers, dealers and technicians, through examples of different approaches to period room displays at the V&A, including the reimagining and reconstructions of certain rooms for different purposes and how such reimaginings foreground the collaborative nature of period room exhibition design in a variety of forms.
Joanna Norman is Director of the V&A Research Institute. She oversees the V&A’s research activities, including academic partnerships and postgraduate programmes, R&D for exhibitions, research affiliations and a portfolio of externally-funded research projects, most significantly a major transformational grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She joined the V&A in 2005 as assistant curator for the Museum’s 2009 Baroque exhibition, moving to the Royal Academy of Arts as co-curator of the 2010 Treasures from Budapest exhibition. From 2012-15 she was project curator for Europe 1600–1815, the redevelopment of the V&A’s permanent galleries of 17th- and 18th-century European art and design, and was subsequently lead curator for the Scottish Design Galleries at V&A Dundee, which opened in 2018. Joanna has published widely in association with her curatorial projects, and also on the history of performance (theatre, festivals and musical instruments) in early modern Italy. Her current research focuses on period rooms and the reconstruction of historic interiors inside and outside the museum environment.
Elisa de Noronha Nascimento (CITCEM/FLUP)
Exhibition design for artists’ books: a short handbook
Regarded as a specific artistic production that was consolidated through the conceptual experiences of the 1960s and 1970s, the artist’s book is, par excellence, an art form of the 20th century. However, the artist’s book has only very recently secured a place in museum collections, requiring these institutions to develop a whole conceptual and critical apparatus to establish and define this position, which is simultaneously physical, symbolic and epistemological, and to create the poetics and policies for its musealisation.
The artist’s book is closely linked to the critical position of artists against artistic institutions, expressed, for example, in the use of alternative strategies for circulating their works of art. However, the artist’s book is consolidated as an art object or an object of Art, which is defined in the aesthetic, cultural, temporal and tactile relation with its reader. The artist’s book thus rests in an ambiguous space between art and book.
Which exhibition methods have marked the recent history of the artist’s book in museums? Which exhibition design approaches were devised taking into consideration its hybrid nature? Which exhibition design strategies were developed having in mind the space/time needed for the public to relate to the artist’s book?
My aim with this communication is to provide answers to these questions, featuring examples of museum exhibition designs that, examined together, form a concise visual and critical handbook for the development of exhibition design for artist’s books.
Elisa Noronha, researcher at CITCEM – Transdisciplinary Research Centre ‘Culture, Space and Memory’, holds a Ph.D and Post-Doctorate degree in Museology by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Porto (FLUP). She has regularly collaborated in teaching and research activities in the Masters in Museology at FLUP and in the Masters in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practices of the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto since 2014. Her research interests cover the intersection between Museology and Art Studies, taking museums and contemporary art centres as its focal point, and contemporary art itself as an exceptionally important way of thinking and of thought-provoking. She has provided expert advice in Museology and Curatorship since 2015, and in the design and execution of cultural art projects. In the past 5 years, she has published articles and presented papers, organised scientific, cultural and artistic events, seminars, publications and exhibitions. Amongst her publications, special mention must be made of her book Discursos e reflexividade: um estudo sobre a musealização da arte contemporânea, Porto: CITCEM/Edições Afrontamento, 2015 [Discourses and reflexivity: a study on the musealisation of contemporary art]. She is currently conducting research on the documentation and exhibition of artists’ publications in contemporary art museums.
Nina Oberg Humphries (University of Canterbury), Lisa McDonald (Glasgow School of Art), and Hamish Anderson (Canterbury Museum)
‘ARE PASIFIKA: the display of Pacific collections, old and new, in Aotearoa New Zealand
Museum collections in Aotearoa New Zealand are replete with material culture from the Pacific Islands that is rarely seen by the viewing public. At Canterbury Museum in the country’s South Island, static permanent exhibitions, institutional bias and inadequately allocated resources results in tens of thousands of Pacific objects being relegated to the confines of closed storage. Of the small number of objects that are displayed, the majority are presented as isolated historical specimens that are removed from their indigenous contexts of production, use and circulation.
In 2017, Nina Oberg Humphries (Aotearoa New Zealand artist of Cook Islands descent), Lisa McDonald (former Associate Curator Māori and Pacific) and Hamish Anderson (Exhibition Designer) collaboratively produced ‘ARE PASIFIKA (House Pasifika) – a vitrine in which Humphries’ contemporary art forms were displayed alongside a geographically and culturally dispersed selection of the Museum’s holdings. The project sought to explore the themes of identity and belonging by creating a physical genealogy that highlighted the spiritual ties of Pacific peoples living in Aotearoa New Zealand to their ancestral homelands.
This paper discusses the role that artists, curators and exhibition designers can play in devising vibrant museological displays that disrupt institutionalised modes of representation. From concept brief to final installation, we reflect on the processes necessary to ensure artistic agency, socio- cultural respect, object safety and audience engagement when exhibiting Pacific Island collections.
Nina Oberg Humphries is an Aotearoa New Zealand artist of Cook Islands descent. She is the 2020 Pacific Artist in Residence at the University of Canterbury’s Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies.
Dr Lisa McDonald is former Associate Curator Human History (Māori and Pacific) at Canterbury Museum. She is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Associate with the Glasgow School of Art.
Hamish Anderson is Exhibition Designer at Canterbury Museum. He is also a practicing artist, working in the mediums of painting and drawing.
Jona Piehl (HTW Berlin)
Visual reflexivity: exhibition graphic design as critical practice
In recent years reflexive practices have come to the fore as museums grapple with their institutional histories and problematic collections. Strategies for critical exhibition making, for decolonizing exhibition narratives and object displays, are emerging particularly in the areas of curation and extended programming (cf Macdonald 2015, Lynch 2014, Görgen-Lammers 2019). Positing that the form of a text holds meaning beyond the words and, in a medium as multimodal as the exhibition, beyond the objects and the space, this paper argues that these debates needs to be extended towards exhibition design and, more specifically, towards exhibition graphic design.
To this purpose, I draw on Hall’s definition of graphic design as a critical practice (2008) and consider exhibition graphic design not in terms of its functional role of carrying information but as a set of visual methods for defining, grouping, comparing, juxtaposing, layering, revealing or concealing information to argue that such methods can support critical museum practice with visual reflexivity. Analysing examples at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, the Field Museum, Chicago, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, ranging from small addition to substantial visual intervention, I explore how graphics facilitate dialogues in the gallery between the then and the now, between a historical display and contemporary interpretation. In contrast to the re- design of an exhibition, in which one narrative is erased and a new one is created, in these instances the exhibits are re-framed in ways that make evident both the original frame(s) and the subsequent acts of reframing. In the resulting displays, layers of meaning are shown in relationship to each other, not only creating space for diverse voices and perspectives but also, crucially, keeping their production as texts open and showing the process of interpretation as on-going rather than completed. Therefore, even though there are challenges regarding visual literacy, the legibility of the displays and their increasing textual complexity, I argue that tactics of visual reflexivity can make significant contributions to the way in which an institution interrogates their past in relation to the present and how the development of such a critical position, the process of reflection itself, is made transparent to their audiences.
Jona Piehl is a graphic designer and design researcher. She is professor of communication design at the HTW Berlin and holds a PhD in exhibition design/museum studies from Central Saint Martins/University of the Arts, London. Situated at the intersection of design, museum studies and narrative theory, her research explores processes and methods of visual storytelling, in particular in the creation of narrative environments such as museums and exhibitions. As a designer, she has worked on numerous exhibition projects in Germany and the UK, working with design consultancies Land Design Studio, London, and, more recently, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Berlin. Her monograph ‘Graphic Design for Museum Exhibitions: Display, Identity and Narrative’ will be published by Routledge later this year.
Kate Rhodes (RMIT Design Hub Gallery)
Exhibition architecture as curatorial argument
In exhibitions of architecture and design, exhibition design is perhaps inevitably foregrounded. Indeed, in large-scale exhibitions and large institutions such exhibition design may be more appropriately called exhibition architecture. Unlike modern and contemporary art, which is generally made for display in a gallery, the work of architects and designers is invariably exhibited out of its intended context. Arguably, this makes the role of exhibition design more consequential, as way to buffer and scaffold and to help audiences imagine the object or system at work in the world. Exhibition architecture is even more important in exhibitions that attempt to display architecture and design processes or research. This paper will explore the hypothesis that what I will call exhibition architecture is an overlooked form of design (and architecture) that warrants close investigation for its role in producing curatorial arguments and mediating audience encounters. Moreover, exhibition architects can be understood as an additional author within the exhibitions they help to realise. My paper will focus on the work of Melbourne-based architecture studio SIBLING who I have commissioned to work on a number of projects at RMIT Design Hub Gallery where I am curator. Embedded within a network of actors producing our exhibitions, SIBLING has created scenographies for a range of architecture and design research projects that have relied significantly on the creation of exhibition environments, or what Terry Smith has called “arenas of experience”. By exploring the processes and componentry, conceptual frameworks, outcomes, and implications of exhibition architecture in selected examples of SIBLING’s work I seek to articulate and theorise its role to better understand the complex relationships between exhibition makers and exhibitors of design and architecture.
Kate Rhodes is curator at RMIT Design Hub Gallery which exists to ask questions about design’s role in the world today. Kate is also currently undertaking a PhD with the MADA Critical Practices Research Laboratory, Monash University. Kate has worked on art, craft, design and architecture exhibitions, workshops and creative activities both in Australia and internationally since 2000. She is the co-creator of several craft and design audio projects including the Audio Design Museum, the Sound of Buildings and Melbourne Unbuilt. Kate was creative director of the State of Design Festival, and curator of its Design for Everyone program. She has held the position of curator at the Australian Centre for Design, Sydney; Craft Victoria and the National Design Centre in Melbourne and was assistant curator of photography and contemporary art at the National Gallery of Victoria for five years. As editor of architecture and design magazine Artichoke, Kate founded Artichoke Night School—a forum for taking design ideas in print into a live discussion. She completed a Masters of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne in 2002, and a Masters of Design Research in RMIT’s Faculty of Architecture and Urban Design in 2010, where she has also taught. Kate has been recognised as part of the Design Honours Program at the Australian Centre for Design. In 2019 she co-edited the book An Unreliable Guide to Jewellery by Lisa Walker with Nella Themelios.
Kasia Tomasiewicz (University of Brighton)
‘All the fun of the fear’: using exhibition histories to understand the challenges of contemporary curation
Since the late 1980s, war museums have actively moved away from representing military histories towards more emotive social histories. Since their popular proliferation following the First World War, war museums have struggled to navigate the changing boundaries of the ‘politics of respect’ (Witcomb, 2009) that underpins representations of conflict. In the Imperial War Museum (IWM), the exhibition that most visibly typifies both this shift and its often-fraught politics is the Blitz Experience (1989-2014). Lasting an impressive twenty-four years, it continues to be divisive some seven years after its removal.
Much can be learnt from looking at the collaborative working practices of production and professionalization that underpinned the exhibition ‘behind the scenes’, but also the innovative and captivating exhibition design as ‘experience’. For all its faults – from ‘sanitizing’ war, to being ‘too scary’ – it also has captured visitor’s imaginations in ways that museums can often struggle to achieve. At the same time, however, it has so profoundly reached some audiences that we might see how the exhibition has come to haunt the Museum as it attempts to maintain relevance during recent political upheavals.
Untangling the complex relations underlying exhibition production, representation, and reception of an exhibition over a prolonged period of time, this paper uses on-going archival and ethnographic research to explore the role of Britain’s national war museum in making war entertaining for visitors. In doing so it looks at the intersections between politics, museum practice, and narratives of conflict to ask, ‘how do museums make war appear ‘fun’?’, ‘what’s Margaret Thatcher got to do with it?’, and ‘what is the relevance of this all in a post-Brexit world?’
Kasia Tomasiewicz is a final-year PhD researcher at the University of Brighton and the Imperial War Museum. Her research traces the changing landscapes of Second World War memory and commemoration at the Museum’s flagship London site. She uses archival, ethnographic and oral history research methods, and is particularly interested in methodological approaches to museum spaces and the complex relations between past, present and future in conducting research on and in museums.
Anna Tulliach (University of Leicester)
Exhibiting museum history within museum spaces: the case studies of the Archaeological Museum of Bologna and the Egyptian Museum in Turin
Ever more frequently, over the past decades, museums have reflected on their own history and on the modalities through which to represent it within exhibition spaces, with the purpose to make museum history more accessible to a wider public. Understanding museum history means better comprehension of museum collections: the connection between objects, the evolution of the collection itself, the reasons why a specific object entered the museum. This paper aims to analyse this topic through the investigation of two case studies: the Archaeological Museum of Bologna and the Egyptian Museum in Turin.
It is possible to recognise several different approaches to the representation of museum history within museums: the organisation of entire sections dedicated to museum histories; frequent references to a collection’s history throughout the museum itinerary; the use of original display cases ‘modernised’; a faithful reconstruction of older exhibition displays. The case-studies analysed in this paper include all the mentioned practices. At the Archaeological Museum of Bologna, museum staff have both reconstructed original displays (e.g., the Room of the Prehistoric Comparisons) and employed ancient showcases modernised according to contemporary museum requirements (e.g., Greek and Roman collections). Consequently, museum visitors experience a constant dialogue between ancient and modern museographic practices. At the Egyptian Museum in Turin, the first museum section is dedicated to its history, narrated by the collectors and Egyptologists who assembled its prestigious collections throughout the centuries. The section serves as an introduction to the museum collections displayed in the subsequent exhibition rooms. In this context, the ancient display cases are used exclusively as historical documents. Moreover, throughout the whole museum itinerary there is a constant reference to the history of the museum collections: photographs and documents related to the discovery of the archaeological objects exhibited and of the excavations conducted are frequently used. Besides representing the history of the museum itself, this approach provides a comprehensive view of the history of archaeology and of museum history in general.
Through the investigation of these case-studies, this paper aims to analyse the modalities of expanding the knowledge and perception by visitors of museum history, and to encourage a debate about the most effective ways to represent museum history within the museum itself.
Anna Tulliach graduated from the University of Bologna, School of Arts and Humanities, with an MA thesis about the Civic Museum of Bologna during the years 1921-1944. She conducted research projects on the preservation of museum collections during the two World Wars and the museological practices adopted in interwar years, publishing her work in several academic journals. She is the recipient of the 2019 Journal of Curatorial Studies’ Emerging Writer Award. She has been editor of Museological Review, Issue 23. She is currently a PhD researcher at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. Her research investigates the role that Allied troops played in the illicit appropriation of museum objects during the Second World War, with a particular focus on the Italian context.
Andrea Witcomb (Deakin University)
From representing the ‘other’ to representing collective selves and their engagement with ‘others’: exhibition design and the poetics of ‘voice’
Andrea Witcomb is Professor of Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at Deakin University, Australia. A former social history curator, Andrea’s prolific scholarship has been seminal in establishing museums as spaces of interactivity, affect and community, and in challenging the focus on governmentality in Museum Studies. Her most influential publications include, Re-Imagining the Museum: Beyond the Mausoleum (Routledge, 2003), South Pacific Museums: An Experiment in Culture (Monash e-press, 2006), and Museum Theory (Wiley and Sons, 2015).
Marlene Van-de-Casteele (National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD) and Atelier Chardon Savard)
Fashioning Beaton Portraits:1928-1968 exhibition
This paper focuses on the Beaton Portraits:1928-1968 exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London (November 1968 – March 1969). As the retrospective of the British photographer’s 40 years of career, this exhibition represents a major case in the history of photography – and fashion photography – exhibitions due to its capacity to initiate a discourse on the museum’s role as entertainment media and the use of fashion as a crucial vector in this shift. Not only was this exhibition the first photography exhibition at the NPG and the first to exhibit contemporary portraits, but it also represented a turning point in the accession of photography into the museum’s collections. But, while this exhibition has been often explored and celebrated for these aspects, little has been written on its fashion characters and their role in transforming this case into one of the most popular commercial exhibitions presenting an inter-disciplinary approach.
In this paper, I will reconstruct the exhibition focusing on its scenography, the choices of the exhibited images and objects, as made by Cecil Beaton, the scenographer Richard Buckle and Roy Strong, both director of the NPG (1967-1974) and curator of the exhibition. Using the NPG archives (administrative documentation, exhibition leaflets, exhibition display plans, letters from visitors, press articles), this paper will highlight the heterogeneity and avant-gardeness of the exhibition that entwined both visual and material popular culture. I will analyze the curatorial strategies set up by Buckle and Strong to show how photography and fashion photography refreshed and reformed the image of this classic institution and democratized its audience at a time of attendance crisis. Not only did it promote a new material approach to the presentation of two-dimensional photography (canvas, mural frescos, ex- votos, photo albums, postcards, posters) but it also explored disciplinary exchanges (theater, cinema, design, fashion) and various methodologies in the staging of fashion photography. Like a theater play or a fashion show, it flirted with the commercial world while engaging its audiences via ephemeras, gadgets, perfume, music. Both Buckle and Strong have indeed encouraged the implementation of new artistic practices, positioning the national state museum as a new popular medium, a center for entertainment and emotional experiences. Furthermore, I argue the mise-en-scene of Beaton photography represented an early attempt – inspired by the exhibition on Diaghilev held at Forbes House in London (1954) – to question the nature of the photographic medium, and acts as an ancestor or a prelude to Fashion: An Anthology (1971 V&A), anticipating many narratives that continue to regulate the understanding of fashion in museums in our present time. The Beaton Portraits:1928-1968 exhibition not only worked as a form of marketing tool for the British photographer but it also helped to showcase the contribution of fashion commercial photography to a wider visual culture, and its central role in establishing the relationship between museums and the entertainment commercial system.
Dr Marlène Van de Casteele is a lecturer in history of photography, fashion and mediation at the National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD) and Atelier Chardon Savard. After having obtained her doctoral degree at the University Lumière Lyon II with the thesis on fashion photography and its value creation, she is currently scientific advisor at the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, working for the preparation of the exhibition on the centenary of Vogue Paris (inauguration in April 2021). Previously, she wrote for art, design and fashion magazines and worked as a research assistant at the Museum of Decorative Arts (MAD Paris) for the Balenciaga Paris (2006), Christian Lacroix, Histoires de mode (2007), Valentino: thèmes et variations (2008) exhibitions.
Chris White (Winkle-Picker) and Alex McCuaig (MET Studio)
Exhibition makers: Chris White interviews Alex McCuaig
Using a qualitative approach to examine illustrative case studies from MET Studio’s portfolio of projects over four decades, the aim is, in conversation with Mr McCuaig, to present a critical account of the evolution of museum and exhibition design from the early 1980s to the present day. This will touch upon a number of themes of the conference including: the changing responsibilities for delivering exhibition design in museums; the professionalisation of exhibition design in museums; changing technologies in exhibition design; the material culture of museum exhibition design; and the nature of interactions between the commercial and public sectors.
The design processes, interpretive approaches, exhibition materiality and financial conditions that have influenced outcomes in selected case studies will be contextualised with reference to prevailing theories in design, museology, education and popular culture. The conversation will trace historical influences and pressures on commercial museum and exhibition design within both the public and private spheres in a variety of different global markets and cultures; identify any elements of continuity that may be instructive; and tentatively highlight any emerging trends that may be of importance going forward.
Dr Chris White is a curator, museum designer and founder-director of Winkle-Picker, a company providing interpretive planning for a wide range of clients, including museums. He received his doctorate from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2016. Chris began his career at the MET Studio in 1992, going on to become Managing Director of MET Studio Hong Kong in 2003. He has recently published Heritage Revitalisation for Tourism in Hong Kong. The Role of Interpretive Planning, Routledge 2018.
Alex McCuaig, founder and CEO of MET Studio, has been at the forefront of museum and exhibiton design for nearly 40 years, nationally and internationally. He was a protégé of James Gardner (1907-95), a leading exhibition designer at the time, whose archive is held by the University of Brighton Design Achives. In 2016, at the FX International Design Awards, Alex was presented with the ‘Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Design’ award for the impact of the educational, cultural and immersive experiences he has created.
Hajra Williams (University of Brighton) and Nima Poovaya-Smith (Independent)
Exhibition makers: Hajra Williams interviews Nima Poovaya-Smith
An insightful look at exhibition making, negotiation and relationship building between national and local authority museums, between curators and between the museum and the community. This interview is an opportunity to explore the work of Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith, from the early groundbreaking exhibitions at Cartwright Hall in Bradford in the 1990s, to the Transcultural Gallery, to her independent work as Director of Alchemy.
Hajra Williams is a Design Star CDT PhD student at the University of Brighton. Her AHRC-supported research focuses on the engagement of South Asian communities in the UK through exhibition design. Looking at three exhibitions held in different institutions in the UK from 1971 to 1999, the research aims to highlight the experiences of South Asians. Previously, Hajra worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum as South Asian Education Officer and then on capital projects-she was interpretation lead for four permanent galleries at the V&A.
Dr Nima Poovaya-Smith is a curator, writer and historian. She has held a number of prominent positions in the arts, including Senior Curator of Bradford Museums and Galleries, Director of Arts for Arts Council, Yorkshire, and Head of Special Projects, National Media Museum. As the Founder-Director of Alchemy Anew, until 2019, she developed independent cultural projects and is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Fine Arts, History of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds. In 2016 she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her services to arts and museums.
Claire Wintle (University of Brighton)
Exhibition making in crisis: professional identity and radical design after the Second World War
Crisis reigned in the post-war period for British museum curators, especially for those who cared for objects from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Even at that time, their collections were seen as problematic – potent reminders of imperial guilt, and a perceived drain on institutions seeking to expunge their global links and cement their provincial, ‘British’ identities. Public funds were being re-directed to essential post-war regeneration, while museums and their bomb-damaged sites were stretched to extremes. The curatorial profession was also in crisis: war-time staffing levels were slow to recover, and the curator’s centrality was soon to be challenged by new professional roles within the museum, including that of the designer.
There was no single reaction to this atmosphere of crisis in exhibition making. Some curators responded directly to the world of commercial design, anticipating the specialist museum design departments of the 1960s. They designed their own modern exhibits featuring innovative materials, lighting and object placement. Elsewhere, commercial design techniques were of little concern: exhibitions were instead driven by the pressures of collections and limited resources. Exhibition design became a ‘hand-to-mouth’ activity (as one curator described it), with a makeshift and almost DIY character. Yet crucially, as part of this crisis-fuelled practice, and well before debates about the place of Britain, museums and curators in a post-war world were settled, several alternative exhibition opportunities emerged: artists, academics, young people, and local communities – including people of colour – were temporarily and tentatively accepted into the museum as exhibition makers. Other curators moved away from their damaged, burdensome sites to make exhibitions beyond the walls of the museum, or loaned objects to community-led exhibitions.
This paper seeks to document this post-war history of museum exhibition making in a time of crisis. It identifies a critical moment in the emergence and professionalisation of modern museum exhibition design, but also points to some of the unexpected tropes that emerged in this period of flux: engulfed by crisis, exhibition design became a site of what we might term radical practice. The results of these endeavours were not necessarily progressive; nor were they born of progressive politics. Yet an examination of this history may give some insight into how museums can respond to our current moment of crisis, of funding, of empire, and of responsibility.
Dr Claire Wintle is Principal Lecturer in Museum Studies and the History of Design at the University of Brighton, UK. Her research focuses on the relationship between museums, collections, empire and decolonisation. She leads the ‘Museums, Archives and Exhibitions’ research area within the Centre for Design History and her publications include Colonial Collecting and Display (Berghahn, 2013), and Cultures of Decolonisation (Manchester UP, 2016, edited with Ruth Craggs). This paper is part of her current project on the professional practice of curators working with anthropology collections in the mid-twentieth century: Curating Decolonisation: Museums in Britain, 1945-1980 is funded by a mid-career fellowship from the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art.
Liya Wizevich (University of Cambridge)
Researching historical changes in exhibition design at the Soviet Union’s state-planned National Exhibition
Challenges in understanding the history of museum exhibitions are compounded in cases within the former USSR by ulterior motives of state planners, lack of documentation, political upheaval, and inaccessible Russian archives. In this paper Moscow’s Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy ‘VDNKh’ forms the case study, tracing historical exhibition design. VDNKh was built in the 1930s as a ‘world’s fair’ where regions of the USSR were represented in elaborate exhibitions, displaying their distinct cultures and local economies. The state goal was to show diversity in people and regions making up a cohesive socialist state. Today it still operates as a museum, with original pavilions hosting modern exhibits.
Over its 80 years, VDNKh ideologically aligned with evolving government policies. Dramatic political reversals led to exhibitional changes that are difficult to trace. My research uncovered incremental shifts in exhibition design planning. Field and archival work in Moscow, and tracking down Russian-language primary sources in both traditional academic archives and libraries, and unconventional (Moscow flea markets) settings were necessary to understand the exhibition’s original design and subsequent evolution. Original maps, blueprints, newspapers, pamphlets, tourist brochures, and photographs reveal the exhibition’s convoluted historical design changes. It is vital to note these Soviet sources were produced as state propaganda, thus can best be understood through this historical context.
Soviet museum design was interwoven with government policies that were never fully transparent to either the visitor or museum designers themselves, making its history all the more valuable to conceptualize. The paper will discuss methodologies for studying exhibition design practice in cases where the nature of the museum exhibition design is neither straightforward, nor accessible. My experience researching one of the most popular Soviet exhibitions – almost completely unknown outside the former USSR – highlights methods an architectural or museum historian can use to study similar difficult cases.
Liya Wizevich is a masters student at Jesus College, the University of Cambridge. She is studying Modern European History, focusing on the post-war years of the Soviet Union, combining the histories of architecture and design, national minorities, and culture and tourism. She has lived in Moscow, and has a BA in Russian & East European Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
Sara Woodbury (College of William and Mary)
Exhibition work: labor networks in the Federal Community Art Center Project
The Federal Community Art Center Project represented one of the most ambitious arts-related initiatives of the New Deal, a series of reforms intended to alleviate the economic hardships of the Great Depression in the United States. Organized by the Federal Art Project (FAP), these centers introduced viewers to historical and contemporary art by sharing exhibitions, staff, and other resources on a national scale. Between 1935 and the end of the WPA during World War II, approximately one hundred art centers opened in more than twenty states. While many of these centers closed permanently during the war, their influence persists within the American cultural landscape, both through the handful of remaining art centers still in operation, and through the museums and related cultural institutions that took inspiration from the Community Art Center Project.
Regarding the program’s exhibitions, what remains striking about this federal endeavor is the labor underpinning each installation. Although Mildred Holzhauer, FAP administrator and director of exhibitions for the Community Art Center Project, conceptualized the program, each show relied on an extensive network of workers, from the carpenters who made picture frames, to the gallery directors and attendants who configured each installation. Additionally, several of these exhibitions invited community participation, with individuals encouraged to submit artwork, antiques, floral arrangements, and other objects. Extant archives provide substantial documentation affirming not only the labor underpinning these exhibitions, but conflicting objectives among staff and volunteers in terms of labor recognition, exhibition objectives, and changing professional roles. This paper will explore the archives of the Community Art Center Project through the lens of labor. Examining these records in detail provides insight into not only the work that sustained the Community Art Center Project, but more broadly the collaborative nature of exhibitions and the challenges of successfully planning and implementing traveling shows.
Sara Woodbury is a curator and art historian pursuing her Ph.D. in American Studies at the College of William and Mary. She has held curatorial positions at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Shelburne Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the National Museum of Wildlife Art. She has organized or co-organized more than thirty exhibitions on American art and material culture, including the major retrospective, Magical and Real: Henriette Wyeth and Peter Hurd, co-curated with the Michener Art Museum. Her scholarly work focuses on the Community Art Center project, a Federal Art Project initiative, and the significance of travel infrastructures to its operations.