Ideally, exhibitions don't exist only within the confines of a gallery: they can stay with the visitor for long afterward, perhaps with the aid of a souvenir. The booming development of gift shops in museums (or museums appended to gift shops, as it might seem at times) is a polarizing issue, but personally I always like browsing the selection of books in a museum shop. Often the supply include books you can't find anywhere else, and they tend to include superb pictures. So I was happy to see this table of books in the exhibition galleries of the Neues Museum in Berlin. In a long gallery that mostly serves as a passageway, this table wasn't competing for attention against any objects but presented the visitor with an array of books relevant to the adjoining galleries. I like the idea of being able to browse the books while you're still thinking about the objects on show, rather than having to wait until the end of your visit when other thoughts are pressing in (bathroom, next museum, lunch, etc.). The subjects ranged from the famous "golden hat" in the neighboring gallery to well-chosen books on astronomy (a theme integral to the hat) and early humans.
It took a visionary to put a vicious over-life-size gorilla statue in the entrance foyer of the Krannert Art Museum. Far from the most welcoming face to usher you into the beautiful glass entry, the gorilla is nevertheless one of the most powerful, memorable, even beautiful works in the collection. Its display here is therefore notable for several reasons, not the least of which is the way it straddles the line between luring and possibly intimidating visitors. Art can be scary, people! Come in and find out how! Personally, I love this bold address.
But what makes this display not only edgy but smart are the two ancillary pieces alongside. I don't mean the pendant sculpture by the same artist, which stands nearby: I mean the artist's smaller-scale practice piece and the thorough signage alongside. The tabletop version of the statue provides lovely harmony with the gargantuan final product, and shows that the artist had to carefully consider his monster — it wasn't just a nightmarish flight of fancy. Moreover, the signage explains much of the reasoning behind the artist's choice and portrayal of the subject. This is much needed, since the piece might at first look like a King Kong knock-off or, as the sign explains, an offensive piece of sexism and racism. Addressing these misconceptions right off the bat, while not making them the center of the interpretation, is a smart move. Knowing more about how this piece was painstakingly made and exhibited over many decades, as well as how it incited controversy, heightens our appreciation for the big bronze lout — as well as introducing us to the power of art. It's the perfect way to begin a museum visit.
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.