This is a live page that brings together key texts related to museum exhibition design history, some of which have been authored by contributors to this conference. If you have any additional recommendations, please let us know through the ‘Contact Us’ function.
Books and papers authored by contributors to
Museum Exhibitions Design: Histories and Futures:
Charles was a volunteer at the Washington DC 2017 Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump was sworn in as President of the US. Charles was on duty helping to direct people to the march from before sunrise until 2pm, then Charles went from her post near to the Capitol down into the throng of people who had come to make their feelings and voices heard. As Charles marched with them and later walked home alone after the sun had set, she found herself thinking back to her first major exhibition, “We the People,” which was designed as protests against the war in Viet Nam and against Richard Nixon were occurring every weekend.
Charles, Barbara Fahs, “Peaks of Perpetual Excitement: Exhibition-Making at the Eames Office,” Catherine Ince and Lotte Johnson, eds., The World of Charles and Ray Eames, Thames & Hudson and Barbican, London, 2015
Charles’ first experience creating exhibitions was at the Office of Charles and Ray Eames, where she worked for four years in the 1960s. At that time, exhibitions were the primary focus of the office—more than furniture or film. This essay looks at how the Eames Office approached three projects: the National Aquarium, Photography and the City and Nehru. Each was commissioned by a government agency and developed without the patronage of IBM. She worked on the first two. Her partner, Robert Staples, was a key player on all three.
For this major traveling exhibition, Charles & Staples needed to think of engaging ways to express Franklin’s interests, creativity and wit. The media of his day was printed. Robert Staples and Barbara Fahs Charles have collected ephemera for years and have long been active in the Ephemera Society of America. A number of the exhibition concepts relied on ideas that drew from their own collections and from institutional holdings. In this article, Charles looks at some of these ideas and show how they were developed.
For most exhibitions, we, as designers, are working with a lead curator and other members of a team. These are intense relationships lasting months and sometimes years. It’s a dance and when we are really in tune with each other, the flow is terrific. What is rarely clear, when we start, is who will lead.
In this brief essay that became the forward to the book, Charles addresses the importance of texts and typography in exhibitions and her concern that the quality of texts—both their content and their form—aren’t taken as seriously as other exhibition elements. It was written at a time when the unlimited possibilities of computer graphics were being used all too often for effect more than understanding. Fortunately, that text-on-text style has mostly abated. Her message is still valid.
Charles, Barbara Fahs, “Exhibition: Theatre of the Inanimate,” Der Milde Knabe oder Die Natur eines Berufenen: Ein wissenschaftlicher Ausblick, Oskar Pausch zum Entritt in den Ruhestand gewidmet, Mimundus 9 Österreichisches Theater Museum, Wien, 1997
Charles has loved the theatre since she was a child, she saw Mary Martin play Peter Pan live on Broadway. Later, she made theatre costumes professionally. When asked to describe the process of making exhibitions, she often responded: think of creating a cross between a scholarly book and a Broadway play. This was her contribution to the Festschrift that was published when her friend Oskar Pausch retired as director of the Österreichisches Theater Museum.
This was Charles’ first time she had tried to explain exhibitions as an art and the various forms they take from object focused to idea centred, and the realm in between where we are using objects to express ideas. Much of the essay addresses such interpretive exhibitions and the layers of elements that help the viewer understand the overall message and significance of individual pieces.
Sandra Kriebel, ‘Art exhibitions as diplomatic gestures. Conflict management via cultural exchange before World War I ‘, in Conflict Management in Modern Diplomacy (1500–1914), ed. by Dorothea Nolde and Julia Gebke (London: Palgrave Macmillan, to be published in 2021).
The article discusses the diplomatic function of two collaboratively organised loan exhibitions of British and French 18th-century works of art, held at the Berlin Royal Academy in 1908 and 1910, in a time when the relationship between the German Empire and its neighbours rested on unsteady foundations. Due to various diplomatic crises, the bilateral relations with the Entente states had shifted between rivalry and rapprochement for several years. Therefore, these art shows are examined within the context of the current peace movement and as characteristic examples of intercultural exchange to help further mutual understanding among the nations. They are regarded as important diplomatic gestures at the interface of private and public spheres to help to fix the complicated political relationship between the Empire and its neighbouring states via cultural diplomacy.
Sandra Kriebel, ‘Eine „Entente des Geschmacks“. Die Berliner Ausstellung französischer Kunst des 18. Jahrhunderts’, in Spannungsfeld Museum. Akteure, Narrative und Politik in Deutschland und Frankreich um 1900, ed. by Stephanie Marchal, Alexander Linke, Valérie Kobi (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2019) pp. 131-146
The article examines the Exhibition of French 18th century works of art, one of the very first blockbuster art shows held by the Royal Academy of Arts in Berlin in 1910. As a means to strengthen the bilateral relations between the German Empire and the French Republic, the exhibition was organised by a collaboration of several internationally acting players such as Academy President Arthur Kampf and French Ambassador Jules Cambon. The article illustrates the exhibition design as well as the sociocultural events, which were initiated in the context of the art show as an effective diplomatic gesture.
The article focusses on the presentation of works of art from the Renaissance at German loan exhibitions around 1900. It examines two art shows held in the competing art cities Berlin and Munich. While the first one was organised by an expert committee of art historians and museum staff members under the supervision of Director Wilhelm Bode, the second one was held by the Munich Secession, an association of artists originally aiming to promote a modern approach to visual art. The exhibitions and their designs are described and illustrated with the aid of photographs and historical reports. Furthermore, their cultural-political functions are being discussed, as it seems that both art shows aimed to point out the desiderata within the museum culture of the two cities and to contribute to the current debate on the German museum crisis.
Contributor’s further reading recommendations:
Staniszewski, Mary Anne, The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art. (Cambridge, The MIT Press, 1998).