To start off this group project of coming up with a design for the summer show 2018 and pitching the idea to a panel, I have been looking at some exhibitions to see how they display work/ present it/ write about it/ label it/ guide you round the space/ design the exhibition guide etc. I have so far been to three different ones: Barbican, Saatchi gallery and The Whitechapel gallery and what I have come to think of as most important and what I look for as soon as I walk in is signs. Wayfinding. Especially noticeable (or not noticeable actually) was the wayfinding in the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. Consisting of a small map with one arrow, a lady that tells you to go upstairs first and a tiny tiny sign on a shadowed part of a wall reading “exhibition starts”, you’re supposed to go about your way hoping you’re making the right turns. Well, wrong turns were made, the lady directing people up the stairs had to chase after some who started wandering about on the ground floor first and people kept bumping into each other trying to find the most logical route to go.
Wayfinding is important. I want to be lead through an exhibition without thinking too much about it, I want a sign to tell me which way to go to experience the art in the best way possible and I want it to be clear that I have seen everything there was to see.
Lighting is important. Comparing the Basquiat exhibition to the Calder one at Saatchi gallery for instance they are lit very differently. The first being dim and a bit dark even, sporting different tones of grey on the walls and emitting a sombre feel, like a dimly lit kitchen hosting a dinner party, contrasting with the personal, bold and bright art on the walls. Done on purpose maybe to enhance the paintings, keeping the space around it neutral and relaxed but I personally didn’t like it. The dimness made me sleepy and I think it gave the exhibition a way too serious mood, like a cloud casting a shadow over the artist’s life. In contrast, the Saatchi gallery kept their walls, floors and ceilings bright white with lots of white lighting that to me accentuated the colours of Calders gouaches and making them act like colour splashes in an otherwise empty room. Now, I am not saying all exhibitions spaces need to be white but the relation between work and space is very important, how they speak to each other, and to me some of the curation decisions made at the Barbican weren’t very good ones.
Text is important. The less I have to read the better. I really don’t like spending lots of time in front of a wall reading a long text about a piece of work and I don’t like it (in an exhibition context anyways hah) when the text is too small. Huddling together with strangers trying to read that tiny description of the idea behind a painting afraid of getting too close lest you accidentally set the alarm off is not great.
Systems are good. For all the things I didn’t like with the Basquiat exhibition, I have to say the consistency of how the work was displayed was good. The work was framed in the same way always (no frame or a coloured one: white/grey/black/wood) and the introductory text was placed in the same way in all the rooms so you knew where to look. The play with contrast when displaying very fragile, messy work in nice, big glass frames was also a good idea I think.
Going big. If the space is big, the ceiling is high- take advantage of it. This I think the Basquiat exhibition did very well. Entering the show you are greeted with a huge white cube with an introduction and a projection playing of the artist himself dancing in his studio with some jazz playing in the background. Some parts of the exhibition also has walls clad in big photos and photowalls are always cool. And I particularly liked the huge vinyl portrait of the artist and Warhol together stuck to one wall. Big plus for when a space makes you look up and look around.