[NetBehaviour] pourinfos.org [apostils] : Displaying works of art. Some remarks about exhibition design. |Jerome Glicenstein|

Geert Dekkers geert at nznl.com
Thu Sep 28 15:52:19 CEST 2006

Thanks for this. RIght in the middle of my own studies into the  
"black cube" (as opposed the the white one) and duration on http:// 


On 28/09/2006, at 11:12 AM, xavier cahen wrote:

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> Displaying works of art. Some remarks about exhibition design.
> By Jérôme Glicenstein
> The issue regarding exhibition design is widely ignored and  
> misunderstood, since the display designer’s work is often confused  
> with the curator’s or the artist’s. This stems from the fact that  
> some exhibition designers also can be artists, architects,  
> decorators or interior designers. The misconception surrounding  
> exhibition designers can also be explained by the fact that they  
> can simultaneously be theater-set designers, working for art and  
> science museums, private galleries, biennials and professional  
> shows. The task itself seems difficult to define since it varies  
> from hanging paintings in a row (as seen in large museums) to  
> putting up a few nails in a gallery. The work could go completely  
> unnoticed, while some display designers including Robert Wilson,  
> Philippe Starck or Jean Nouvel are recognized as major creators.
> However, exhibition display has existed for a long time, at least  
> since art has been shown outside its original context. This is why,  
> since the creation of the “Salon officiel” set in France (at the  
> end of the 17th century), one of the curators’ main functions was  
> to display art pieces in such a way that they relate to each other  
> thus proposing a certain order to the visitors. At first, this  
> approach was not necessarily related to “aesthetics” but followed  
> academic and genres priorities and other rules of etiquette. At  
> first, curators were Academy members; later on however, during the  
> whole existence of the Salon, it was the artists themselves who  
> arranged exhibitions display. Artists as different as Chardin,  
> Renoir, Matisse or Léger occasionally played this role at the  
> salons [1].
> The “Golden Era” of exhibition design was during the 1920’s and  
> 30’s, when many museums were reorganized and the first museums of  
> modern art came into existence.
> Many of the modern art protagonists of the time were involved,  
> Alexander Dorner, Alfred Barr, René d’Harnoncourt, Louis Hautecœur,  
> El Lissitzky, Herbert Bayer or Frederick Kiesler... Lissitzky  
> summarized pretty well the passage regarding wall set-up within the  
> arrangement of the whole space: “One doesn’t look at the space  
> through a keyhole, nor through an open door. The space is not only  
> meant for the eyes, it is not a painting: one wants to live  
> within”. He also added that it was an odd experience, “a genuine  
> and moving experience” that could not be reduced to a sole instant.  
> “During an exhibition, one strolls around. This is the reason why  
> the space should be planned in a way to allow visitors to move  
> around freely. He explained how important it was that the public  
> physically react to the pieces shown in the exhibition [2] ”.  
> During the same period and with a similar commitment of “involving”  
> the visitors, Frederick Kiesler perfected several systems of  
> displaying paintings that he called “vision machines”.
> These machines allowed visitors to adjust the height of images and  
> objects, (consequently modifying the “whole cohesion” of the  
> exhibition [3] ). Other display designers incorporated the concept  
> of “physiological” factors in the disposition of the space. This is  
> the case of Herbert Bayer, whose “limitations of the field of  
> vision” diagrams meant to define the “conditions of the visit” from  
> a “scientific” and “deterministic” point of view. He explains that  
> “an exhibition… paintings… or photographs, are only a part… of new  
> and complex means of communication. A particular theme in an  
> exhibition… should penetrate and move the visitor inside. It  
> should… lead him to a direct and pre-planned reaction [4] ”.
> Recently, the question about the limits between the artist’s  
> involvement and the exhibition designer’s has been debated. Would  
> the way that light is projected on a work of art be part of the  
> design? Should the artist decide on the color of the walls, the  
> choice of furniture, the labels and information signs? Louis Marin  
> accurately remarked that: “displaying works of art is not a minor  
> task unrelated with the art, but the continuity of the production  
> of the work of art; the term of production - to bring, to move the  
> work of art “forward”- implies that art display ought to be  
> recognized as a full part of the art [5] ”. Installations shows are  
> obvious and common illustrations of this type of problems. The work  
> of art and its design are often overlapping and become almost  
> identical. For example, during the 1999 Venice Biennial, a video  
> installation by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon showed the same two  
> scenes of Taxi Driver in a loop slightly unsynchronized on two  
> opposite walls of a room. Obviously this was not a screening of  
> Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver, but rather a creation based on  
> a “re-interpretation” and a different display of the same film.  
> Many similar examples could be found. Actually, some site specific  
> works tend to be practically inseparable from their design. The  
> only elements that eventually escape being part of the work of art  
> would be the “labels”, “information signs” and “paths” of access,  
> the light and the architecture of the site.
> Problems caused by transforming pieces that were not conceived to  
> be shown in the field of fine arts are quite different: literature,  
> sound pieces, films, performances, Internet sites… and to a lesser  
> extent some forms of non-western art, design, graphics,  
> architecture, etc…Then, the vocation of exhibition designers  
> becomes the creation of pieces to be exhibited. In literature, it  
> means isolating text fragments, creating reading lounges or public  
> readings; in architecture, it could be working on  
> “representations”, sketches, plans, photographs, models,  
> prototypes, synthesized image animations, etc… In performing arts,  
> sketches, photos, recordings or even performances and concerts are  
> often programmed in the exhibition space, or close to the space.  
> The case of non-western arts or “applied arts” is somehow different  
> since it implies choosing between a “documentary” approach (movies,  
> photos, documents, lectures, etc…) and an “aesthetic” approach  
> (setting up objects on stands, isolation, light set up). These  
> “adaptations” are implying that an exhibition cannot be planned  
> without a “pre-definition” of the objects to be exhibited.  
> Moreover, some of the objects needing to be adapted to an  
> exhibition format are sometimes “re-invented for the occasion”.  
> Recently the development of “reading spaces” within the exhibitions  
> -for example, at the Palais de Tokyo – shows the need to constantly  
> generate new ways accessing contemporary art. This is a crucial  
> issue in the case of interactive creations; creations which are  
> usually more “hands-on” than “meant to be exhibited” in the  
> traditional sense.
> In recent years, exhibition designers’ most prevalent problem in  
> the context of their task in contemporary art exhibits is related  
> to films or videos presentations. One of the main challenges is the  
> length of the show: while movie theaters are adapted to feature  
> films, art shows are not. Françoise Parfait questions: “How is it  
> possible to stand in an open space watching an half an hour  
> monoband screening (the audience not having any clue about the  
> duration of the film) when it is primordial to watch the whole film  
> from the beginning in order to grasp its meaning? Should we propose  
> video rooms or viewing lounges in museums and art centers [6]? ”. ”  
> This issue became critical during Kassel’s latest Documenta (in  
> 2002) when hundreds of hours of video projection were presented (it  
> was virtually impossible to sit through them all). How can one have  
> a satisfactory level of concentration when the projection is  
> drowned in the middle of the “flow” of an exhibition? How could the  
> problem of sound interference be solved when several videos are  
> screened simultaneously? Most probably, these issues initiated the  
> introduction of expressions such as “exhibition cinema” or  
> “installed cinema” to label some cinema styles foreign to a more  
> “classical” cinema presentation that could only be achieved via  
> contemporary art shows. The issue of animated images exhibitions  
> highlights the way relations are managed - relations between works  
> of art and the public as well as relations between members of the  
> public. In fact, “an exhibition (…) is an installation setting-up  
> things and people in a same place [7] ”. The space is not only  
> organized around the art works, but also to meet the public needs  
> in order to ensure a most satisfactory visit. During the 19th  
> century, visiting large exhibitions , such as at the Salon’s, meant  
> putting up with dreadful conditions which were a permanent source  
> of ironic comments in the press of the time; it is not the case  
> now, with an increased number of lounges, audio-guides, cafeterias  
> and souvenir shops showing an on-going concern to optimize the  
> experience.
> Two points have been raised regarding visitors’ remarks and the  
> ways to “utilize” the exhibition. The first refers to the fact that  
> while studying visitors “habits”, it becomes necessary to “model”  
> their journey. Thus, since the 1920’s, specific studies have been  
> conducted to determine the optimum quantity of works of art to show  
> and the best placement for them in the space provided. These  
> studies showed that visitors behavior varied in a relatively  
> “predictable” way, according to the background, the type of  
> exhibition, the room layout, the paths proposed, the number of  
> objects, etc., something that doesn’t go without consequences on  
> the exhibition design [8] . The second point derives from the first  
> and is a more “critical” one. It has been made by media-historian  
> Jonathan Crary and is related to the fact that visitors of an  
> exhibition are usually “observers”, in the sense that they  
> “observe”, they “respect”- rules, codes, instructions and uses that  
> are imposed. Crary thinks that: “ Evident as it may seem, a person  
> who sees -an observer- is above all, a person who sees within the  
> frame of a pre-determined range of possibilities, a person who is  
> inscribed within a system of conventions and limits”. As announced  
> by a text distributed at the entrance of the 1901 “Pan-American”  
> Exhibition: “We are asking you to remember that once you cross the  
> threshold, you are a part of the exhibition [9] ”.
> The issue surrounding the value of the design of an exhibition has  
> often been raised over the last forty years as it became obvious  
> that these designs project a “sense” and various curators started  
> claiming authorship over specific designs as expression of their  
> “artistic creation”. A creative “set-up” could actually bring  
> significant changes over to a work of art (or a collection of works  
> of art). A painting by Manet positioned next to a painting by  
> Velasquez develops consequences on their “readings [10] . An  
> exhibition design is a largely subjective exercise based on  
> permanent de-composition and re-composition”. It is never neutral:  
> Éric Troncy chose to exhibit a naked woman photographed by Helmut  
> Newton next to a plaster Virgin by Katarina Fritzsch or a Bernard  
> Buffet’s painting in front of a mural by Sol Lewitt thus provoking  
> some critics’ despair [11] . The “relations” between works of art  
> are defined by the exhibition designer and highlight their specific  
> “comprehensions” inherent in their design itself. Is it possible to  
> keep intact the memory of such meaningful juxtapositions? As early  
> as the 1930’s, the MoMA began exhibiting images and documents  
> related to certain “historical” exhibition designs, regardless of  
> their status [12] ”. More recently, and soon after the 1970’s, some  
> display techniques have been re-created within the exhibitions.  
> That was the case for “Paris-New York” (1977) and “Paris- 
> Paris” (1981). A large number of recent exhibitions have followed  
> this trend, notably the “Dada” exhibition wherein one found an  
> approximate re-construction of the Picabia show at Dalmau Gallery  
> in Barcelona and also another (also approximate) re-construction of  
> the First Berlin International Dada Fair (1920) were launched. In  
> fact, exhibition design has become a “genre” of its own: in 1989 at  
> the “Stationen der Moderne” exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie  
> in Berlin, up to twenty historical German exhibitions were re- 
> created [13] .
> Jérôme Glicenstein
> Paris, May 4th, 2006
> Notes :
> [1] For a general history of the Salon, see Gérard-Georges Lemaire,  
> Histoire du salon de peinture, Paris, Klincksieck, coll. Etudes, 2004.
> http://www.klincksieck.com/accueil.html
> [2] Many works on Lissitzky have been published. His main reference  
> is Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers’s book, El Lissitzky : Life, Letters,  
> Texts (1967), New York, Thames & Hudson. 1992.
> http://www.abebooks.com
> [3] Among the well-documented catalogues on Frederick Kiesler, see  
> specifically, Frederick Kiesler artiste-architecte (under Chantal  
> Béret’s supervision). This book was published for the exhibition  
> CNAC - Georges Pompidou , Paris, Editions du Centre Pompidou, 1996.
> http://www.cnac-gp.fr/
> [4] Regarding Herbert Bayer, see in particular, Alexander Dorner,  
> The Way Beyond “Art” – The Work of Herbert Bayer, New York,  
> Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc., 1947.
> http://www.questia.com/
> [5] See Fabrice Hergott, « Réponses au questionnaire “Accrocher une  
> œuvre d’art” », in Cahiers du MNAM n°17/18, « L’œuvre d’art et son  
> accrochage », Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1986, p. 207.
> [6] Françoise Parfait, Video : un art contemporain, Paris, Regard,  
> 2001, p. 170.
> http://www.editions-du-regard.com/regard/essais.html
> [7] Claquemurer pour ainsi dire tout l’univers. La mise en  
> exposition (under the direction of Jean Davallon), Paris, MNAM/CCI,  
> coll. alors :, 1986, p. 205.
> [8] See, for example: Publics et Musées n°8, « Études de publics,  
> années 30 », Lyon, PUL, July-December 1995.
> http://presses.univ-lyon2.fr/article.php3?id_article=19&id_livre=194
> [9] Jonathan Crary, L’art de l’observateur. Vision et modernité au  
> XIXe siècle (trad. F.Maurin), Nîmes, Jacqueline Chambon, coll.  
> Rayon photo, 1994 (original edition: Cambridge, MIT, 1990), p. 26.
> http://fr.bookbutler.com/
> http://books.google.com/
> [10] This is the topic of Victoria Newhouse’s book, Art and the  
> Power of Placement, New York, The Monacelli Press, 2005.
> http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/Reviews/MGreview.html
> http://www.amazon.com/Art-Power-Placement/dp/product-description/ 
> 1580931480
> [11] Daniel Buren, “Where are the Artists”, in The Next Documenta  
> Should Be Curated by an Artist, June-November 2003; available at  
> http://www.e-flux.com..
> http://www.e-flux.com/projects/next_doc/d_buren_printable.html
> [12] Concerning this topic, see, in particular, Mary Anne  
> Staniszewski’s book, The Power of Display. A History of Exhibition  
> Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, Cambridge Ma-London, MIT  
> Press, 1998.
> http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=8169
> [13] Stationen der Moderne. Die bedeutenden Kunstausstellungen des  
> 20. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, Berlin, Berlinische Galerie, 1988.
> http://www.berlinische-galerie.de
> Jérôme Glicenstein’s biography:
> Jérôme Glicenstein is an artist and Associate Professor in Fine  
> Arts at Paris University (Saint-Denis).
> His lectures and his field of research deal with theories and  
> practices of exhibitions. In addition, he is in charge of a  
> university gallery and of the cycle of exhibitions “ To place/to  
> displace” at the Saint-Denis Museum of Art and History.
> He is also a regular collaborator for various magazines, in  
> particular la Revue d’Esthétique and directs the magazine Marges.
> He published various articles on the relations between art and the  
> new media.
> Publications to come:
> « Dispositif », in Dictionnaire du corps (sld. Michela Marzano),  
> Paris, PUF, 2006.
> « L’art contemporain peut-il être populaire ? Remarques à propos de  
> Nuit blanche », Revue d’Esthétique n°46, 2006.
> « From Spectator to Actor: Experiments in the Gallery of Paris8 »,  
> in Proceedings of the XIXth Congress of IAEA (sld Jean-Christophe  
> Vilatte), Avignon, IAEA, 2006.
> Main recent publications:
> « Internet — Sites d’artistes », Encyclopædia Universalis (CD-Rom),  
> Paris, 2000.
> http://www.universalis.fr/
> « Le paysage panoptique d’Internet. Remarques à partir de Jeremy  
> Bentham », Revue d’Esthétique n°39, Paris, Jean-Michel Place, 2001,  
> p. 97-115.
> http://www.jeanmichelplace.com/fr/revues/detail.cfm? 
> ProduitID=1114&ProduitCode=7#
> « Statistiques, rumeurs et anarchie », Parpaings n°25, 2001, p. 21-22.
> http://www.jeanmichelplace.com/
> « Le Guggenheim Virtuel », dans http://www.mudam.lu (sld Claude  
> Closky), musée Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg, 2002.
> http://www.mudam.lu
> « Qu’attendez-vous du Palais de Tokyo ? », l’Info Noir/Blanc n°23,  
> 2002.
> http://www.caap.asso.fr/spip.php?rubrique2
> « Le Palais de Tokyo : un “cinéma de situations” », Revue  
> d’Esthétique n°42, Paris, Jean-Michel Place, 2003.
> http://www.jeanmichelplace.com/fr/revues/detail.cfm? 
> ProduitID=628&ProduitCode=7
> « La muséologie d’Internet : quelques remarques à propos du  
> Guggenheim Virtuel », dans L’art à l’époque du virtuel (sld  
> Christine Buci-Glucksman), Paris, L’Harmattan, coll.Arts8, 2003.
> http://www.editions-harmattan.fr/
> « Changer de convictions ou changer de rôle ? Remarques à partir  
> d’une enquête menée par le Site de création contemporaine du Palais  
> de Tokyo », dans Art : changer de conviction (sld Jacques Morizot),  
> Paris, L’Harmattan, coll. Arts8, 2004.
> http://www.editions-harmattan.fr/
> « La création artistique contemporaine face aux nouveaux médias »,  
> dans Arts plastiques et nouvelles technologies, Saint-Denis, Musée  
> d’art et d’histoire, 2004.
> « Quelques remarques à propos de Matrix », Revue d’Esthétique n°45,  
> Paris, Jean-Michel Place, 2004.
> http://www.jeanmichelplace.com/fr/revues/detail.cfm? 
> ProduitID=1114&ProduitCode=7
> « Le commissaire d’exposition entre auteur et interprète », Dossier  
> signature n°57, Montréal, Esse arts+opinions, 2006.
> http://www.esse.ca/fr/sommaire_ar.php?no=57
> Author’s recommendation / Current events:
> Exhibition: Architects' Exhibition Designs
> 115 European exhibitions designed by architects
> 7/7/2006 > 22/10/2006
> Pavillon de l'Arsenal
> 24 bld. Morland
> 75004 Paris France
> http://www.pavillon-arsenal.com/en/expositions/thema_modele.php? 
> id_exposition=175
> http://www.pavillon-arsenal.com/img/exposition/175/cp/PAV_175_CP.pdf
> Translation: Kristine Barut Dreuilhe
> Original version:
> La mise en scène des œuvres d’art. Remarques à propos de la  
> scénographie d’exposition.
> http://www.pourinfos.org/
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> All text is available under the French license Creative Commons :
> non-commercial attribution – no derived work. 2.0. In order to  
> encourage a free pedagogic or associative usage.
> http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/fr/
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