Intro to Exhibition Studies

Before the start of term we were asked to bring in an item that we felt that was a representation of us, but also think about how it links with design.

For this assignment I had brought in a dead motherboard that I salvaged from my old PC. It was quite frustrating as it had broken days before the summer project was due, and I was determined to learn how to repair my computer, which involved buying parts and fixing it from scratch. It was an extremely big learning curve to accomplish in such a short time but I had I had managed to fix it. 

 The reason I had chosen to present this piece because it is the brain and memory of a computer and without it, it cannot function. When it is taken out of the casing of the computer it is laid bare and you can see the detailing of the circuit board. By looking closely you can see all the lines, and soldered parts each have a function and once it breaks it’s difficult to repair. I feel it is somewhat relatable to how we think, but also that machines are worn down by “stress” .

Curating the City – ArcelorMittal Orbit

Unlike the visits we have had on previous weeks, we had come to a public location, but rather than an exhibit we were at a sculpture. Instead of analysing  for curatorial constraints and to examine the place, we had to record our experiences as we went had come to the ArcelorMittal by Anish Kapoor. 

Upon arriving at the meeting point in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I had thought about why would we come to this place, as this is very different to the previous exhibits and collections that we had visited. This was just a sculpture of a giant red tower. The tour guide had taken us to the top by the elevator and once at the top I began to feel overwhelmed with white light from being high up. But also the curved mirrors left me very disoriented and I  found it a little difficult to move around because they were reflecting off each other from the other sides of the room. Going outside onto the “balcony” type area I noticed that even though this was the UK’s tallest sculpture, it did not feel as high as I had thought. It doesn’t seem as tall from the the bottom, but it seemed to be a large scale at the bottom when we walked under the bell.

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By the end of the visit I realised that this sculpture is a piece in a larger scale exhibit. The “Venue” is the city of London, and by coming to the top of the sculpture you can see a 20 mile radius of the city and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Private Collections – Sir John Soane’s Museum

Private collections were most common in the early 1900s, exhibitions and museums were opened to the rich and there would be a required paid entry. Private collections are also just pieces that are kept in the homes of the owner and would only be viewed by the family and close friends.

Sir John Soane’s Museum of London is located in Holborn, 12 Lincoln Fields, it is not what you would see as a normal museum, it is more of a private collection exhibit. Soane’s Museum is a house of Sir John Soane, an English architect who lived and built it over 180 years ago. It has been kept in preservation of his research and upon his death he requested that his house became open free access to visitors, as his collection was designed and created to inspire and educate fellow architectural students.

He had wanted to educate future architecture students and had bought the flat 12 and 14 with plans to expand but were not approved. Instead he had created rooms that would be for the students to live and invited 10 students to get a hands on learning experience.  His collection consists of, sculptures, architectural models, antiques, paintings and furniture.

On this visit before entering his house we were asked to put our possessions in a plastic bag, and then stored them in a cloak room downstairs of the house. This was so no damage could come to any part of the house as it has been kept in the same condition since Sir John’s death. The lighting was very dim, and some rooms were quite close to total darkness with only a candle light this was because the ceiling had leaked and another restoration is currently in order . There were many chairs placed around but a fern was placed on each one as a sign that we were not allowed to sit on them. Some parts of the house had been modified so that you could walk through the dressing room into another study.

His most recognisable work was when he built the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery.  There was a room entirely dedicated to Gothic architectural pieces with many different gargoyle heads hanging up on a wall, and a stained glass window. The most interesting part of his collection was the Egyptian tomb and sarcophagus that he had brought from the British Museum, as the British Museum did not have the funds to buy and add it to their collection.

This experience was interesting as so many things were quite close to you, and the house’s interior was different, as there was an open middle where you could see into the basement and the courtyard had a large cross put inside, although the courtyard area was not accessible you could see through the Dutch stained glass windows.

Nations on Display – The British Museum: Room 33 China, South Asia & South East Asia

For this visit, the class was split into multiple groups which were then assigned to a different room within the Museum. The room for our group to explore was Room 33. This was my very first time visiting The British Museum, and I found this to be a fascinating experience. The interior of the building somehow looked more larger to me than it did from the outside, which already seemed grand with the columns.

What I first noticed about this exhibition is that the room “China, South Asia & South East Asia” has been grouped together in one room, and the room feature pieces from those three parts of the world. This layout creates an infinite yet methodical experience where there is not forced route. The display cases are perpendicular, whereas if it were parallel, it would create more curatorial constraints with less breathing space for the people and for the exhibits in the room.

The room is located on the first floor, at the back where there is a long hallway or corridor shaped room. There is a dome in the centre of the room which acts as a filter upon entering, so that people are able to walk in either direction and can wander as they like and experience the room organically. The walls are painted a pale yellow colour, and conservatively lit. The wooden floors and height of the room create an acoustic atmospheric space where sound carries for the entirety of the audience in any part of the building. Towards the right of the room there is a large silk painting of The Three Bohdivists.

The image of Tara, Goddess of Peace and Protection, a statue that is on display that is featured in the room, was used on the sign on the map and outside the room to represent the room. I feel that this is because there is a small collection, not enough from all three places to create individual rooms for an exhibition.

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Temple/White Cube/ Laboratory — Iwona Blazwick

Iwona Blazwick’s chapter Temple/White Cube/ Laboratory is a chapter within her book “What makes a great Exhibition?” published in 2007.
In this Chapter she goes through a history of the Whitechapel Gallery, of who found it and the intentions and aims which were consistent of many political and war issues. She describes the difference in classes and what Whitechapel had done to transform how class and culture changed with the Gallery in East London coming to be and depicts how it’s curatorial values have developed and advanced to a contemporary one from a grand style century house such as the Royal Academy was.  Blazwick notes that despite the beliefs that the ‘white cube’ contemporary style is seen as ‘neutral’ she argues that is the opposite and that it actually has been designed with a psychodynamic function and intention, and that it is not natural or neutral, but focuses more on geography, politics and subjectivity.

Keywords: politics, unnatural, psycho-dynamics. didactic

Author Notes/Biography: Iwona Blazwick an art critic and director of The Whitechapel Gallery

Brief Synopsis: 

  • Whitechapel opened in the East End of London to provide moral guidance to those, as the western culture was more immersed in the art world and with wealth and neutralise the class conflict. It was situated near the Thames docklands, where more immigrants had settled from the East.
  • 1902 The Japanese Exhibition was held which is a reference to the world fairs, the first one being held in Crystal Palace, London.
  • Grand century house style was used in galleries like the Royal Academy which had paintings stacked from floor to ceiling.
  • An Exhibition called “Jewish Art and Antiques” to demonstrate the civilized nature of the Jew and also to combat anti-semitism.
  • Trevor Dannat comissioned to redesign the Whitechapel galleries for Jackson Pollock’s show.
  • 1956 Whitechapel “This is Tomorrow” Exhibition
  • It was used as a political platform by Joseph Beuys where he describes the space becoming a laboratory and  place where in the context of the civil rights movements and the anti-Vietnam War rallies of the late sixties and early seventies, Londoners could reflect, discuss and agitate.

Key individuals/groups/events referenced: 

  • Whitechapel Gallery
  • Reverend Samel Barnett & Wife – founder of Whitechapel Gallery also brought art to East london
  • East London
  • The Worlds Fair
  • The White Cube
  • Bryan Robertson re-created Whitechapel’s gallery giving it a new focus

Interesting Quotations/extracts:

  • “The exhibition space, be it museum or laboratory, can no longer be understood as neutral, natural or universal but rather as thoroughly prescribed by the psychodynamics of politics, economics, geography and subjectivity”
  • In reference to the Whitechapel Gallery, “the top-lit interior and high ceilings offered a templelike space. Within this almost religious interior, pictures were presented to link art with a morality tale of everyday life. “
  • “The space of the gallery transformed to accommodate the transitions of the object of art away from being a window onto another world, away from being an illusion, to becoming a real thing, an object to be experienced in time and space.”
  • “The challenge for the twenty-first century is to acknowledge that exhibition spaces and systems of display are neither natural not neutral.”

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist

Peter Kennard is a British artist whose work focuses on war, politics and society, he’s titled as the “Unofficial” war artist as it suggests that he is not government sanctioned and the pieces in this exhibit are a collection of his personal images and thoughts. This exhibition seems to be aimed at activists or groups and individuals who are supporters of war or against it.

Upon entering the first room there is a series of large coloured canvas paintings; as you progress to the next room, there is a monochromatic theme, with stencilled art work. Continuing further from this a large wooden display case with his publication works inside. There are also posters that fold out allowing you to interact with the space more.

What I had noticed as I progressed to the third room and proceeded to the back, was that the space became more intense and overwhelming, as the walls are painted black and the paintings are hanging clustered together almost like they would in Salon fashion, in which the paintings are placed very closely together creating a very tense atmosphere.

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Kennard’s Exhibition supports the Imperial War Museum’s main collection as his work is more than historical facts and documentation, it is his own personal reflection on “what is war?” and “what good is war?”. His collection creates a balance to the Imperial War Museum’s main collection.

Design Priciples and Grid Systems

Type and layout is something that I generally dislike doing, mainly because I struggle with placement or creating a balance when it comes to a publication. But this is something I am eager to improve on and learn more about. I love to stare at magazines and books with intricate designs and aim to be able to find a balance that suits me and find acceptable.

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One book I’ve found particularly helpful was “Grid Systems” by Kimberly Elam and this book makes it more interesting to read and just to look at because of the print, and incerpts in the books with thorough explanations of the grid systems.
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On these pages you can see the grid layouts have been drawn on tracing paper and made as insert pages so that you can see what type of grid system was used. This was an exercise I had previously done in college however this book goes into more detail of not simply using column grids but using modular and circles to create visual hierarchy.

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This page had reminded me of the Tuesday workshop we had done in first term, when we were given the same size of text, and create 10 different layouts. The circle is an interesting piece and can be used in many ways to create balance, but also because it is a curved shape, different from the block of text it can lead the eye.