An online (or more broadly, a digital) platform is a great solution to the layers of information embedded in any exhibition, from the large-writ headers to the digging-deeper details for specialists and the especially interested. Formatting these layers so that they are both accessible and beautiful is a challenge—one that The Metropolitan Museum met with gusto in its #metkids project. This website, although meant to introduce children to the museum's collections, is a delight for any age. The cheery red background and lively graphics are pleasing to the eye, and the simple arrangement of text with clear headers makes information easy to find. Further info can be found by clicking the terms highlighted in yellow, another easy visual cue. This site seems like a good point of reference for anyone thinking about digital presentation, be it stand-alone or supplementary to a physical (brick-and-mortar? We need a term for this) exhibition.
"A good test of an art museum is how far you have to go into it before you see art." These are the wise words of Elizabeth Easton, director of the Center for Curatorial Leadership and a wonderful mentor for our cohort in the CCL summer program 2014. The Saint Louis Art Museum gives you art already in the beautiful grounds outside the museum, and more as soon as you walk in the door: the grand foyer with its lofty ceiling and vaulted bays perfectly frames a rotating assortment of large (appropriate to the space) pieces from the collection. But what struck me in particular about this foyer is that it contains not only art but large (again, the space demands it) floral arrangements. They provide a necessary humanizing touch to what might otherwise be a dauntingly grandiose space. Luckily enough, during my visit the florist was still there putting on the finishing touches; and when I struck up conversation, he mentioned the extra complexity of putting flowers in an art museum: all the vegetation has to be fumigated before being installed! Beyond that extra hurdle, I imagine that thinking up a flower arrangement to work alongside the art must be a refreshing challenge.
Yesterday saw the finale of an ambitious multi-year project in the National Museums of Berlin meant to probe the issues in displaying ethnographic collections today. This "Humboldt Lab" took place in Berlin's Ethnological Museum and raised some fantastically interesting questions—like the problem of displaying sacred objects not meant to be seen, the subject of an earlier post on this blog. The publication accompanying the seven "trial" exhibits constructed as part of the Lab is lovely too; I look forward to reading it. (For anyone interested in ordering a copy but undecided on which language, go for the original German—the text is much more readable than the English translation.) Although I'll be sad to see the old museum close (below is a view of the sleek South Pacific galleries, reopened in 2004), it will be exciting to see how the museum moves ahead with the results of this unique petri-dish opportunity!
This weekend sees the opening of the new Ancient Middle East gallery at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Cause for celebration on several levels: it is an immense coup for a museum too often brought up in talk of financial crisis; it highlights the importance of this material at a time of extreme crisis in the Middle East; and, most relevant for this blog, the new gallery forefronts a nice modern display concept for some very old material. The creamy gray palette of the walls, floor, ceiling, and cases offers a clean backdrop for the variegated shapes and colors of the objects. The lighting is masterful: it is stronger on the objects than in the rest of the room, yet still diffuse rather than spotlit—hard to achieve, but worthwhile! The cases also do a nice job of hiding the light sources, while the ceiling contains a few discrete lines of track lighting. Clear plastic signboards with black lettering signpost the side galleries (apparently organized by material: metalwork to the left, ceramic to the right). The Neo-Babylonian mushussu relief provides a lovely centerpiece. To my mind, the overall effect of the gallery is very pleasing; I hope someday to see it in person.
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.