CTS: Seen And Not Heard: Considerations on Creating Public Exhibitions

A Curator’s Influence

How does the curator influence the exhibition? Do we think we’re looking at the truth when really what we’re looking at are not facts, but opinions?

‘Cabinets of Curiosity’, display cabinets often seen in museums, ‘also known as ‘wonder rooms’, were small collections of extraordinary objects’ (British Museum, 2016). Extraordinary objects, we are told. Behind these ‘wonder rooms’ is a curator who has decided what objects shall be seen as ‘extraordinary’ and what story they tell when placed in a specific order. In other words, the curator defines the narrative that they want.

Many years ago, paintings were hung in museums/galleries strategically for example, good paintings at eye level (because we’re all the same height yes?!), top paintings angled down which were normally portraits so the viewer felt their gaze and unimportant paintings placed at the bottom known as ‘flooring’. My point is that someone gets to decide what is important and what is no, therefore influencing the viewer’s own opinion, this is done in such a way that it is almost the curator’s work that makes the art, not the artist.

hdr-paintings-galleries2-415

http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/p/paintings-galleries/, Victoria & Albert Museum, 13/11/16

An example of this is back in 1937 when the Nazi party put on an exhibition entitled ‘The Degenerate Art Exhibition’ which was just down the road from a second exhibition they created which was designed to “show works that Hitler approved of – depicting statuesque blonde nudes along with idealised soldiers and landscapes.” (BBC, 2016). Before Hitler became a politician, he was an artist who most appreciated realistic paintings of buildings and landscapes, however this “had been dismissed by the art establishment in favour of abstract and modern styles.” (BBC, 2016).  Essentially, Hitler’s aim wasn’t only to make a mockery of modern art, but to present it as an “evil plot” against the German people.

Therefore next time you visit a museum or gallery, think about the history of the place it is located and who placed it there and I guarantee you will come up with your own conclusion about the work 100x stronger that you would have before.

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