It's a tricky task to make nature itself into an exhibition. Nature walks (in botanical gardens and model farms, for instance) often rely not on a group of objects or other predetermined set of material, but on an unpredictable troupe of actors who may or may not be on stage that day. What a challenge to present material that the visitor might not even get to see! But certain display tactics can help smooth over the possible unevenness of this living exhibition. The Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood, Florida centers on a boardwalk that winds through a section of mangrove habitat. (It also has a lovely visitor's center which, when I visited, included a display of contemporary art on spiffy movable walls.) At the start of the walk, large signs with vivid pictures of the animals (above) introduce the visitor to the point of the exhibition: to VIEW the plants and animals. Further, to help the visitor engage—and to help them see the critters tucked away in their hidey-holes—the Center offers a handout with a checklist of the plants and animals one might encounter on the walk. This is an easy, effective, low-cost way to encourage visitors (especially kids) to really look, and even to try to identify the things they see. It would be fantastic as an app for mobile devices too.
Airport exhibitions have the benefit of one thing that other exhibitions can only dream about: a captive audience! But they also have to address some challenges particular to their location. An exhibition on musical instruments titled "Wonderful Winds" at the St. Louis International Airport caught my eye because it is situated on a raised island right where arriving passengers turn the corner between the gates and the baggage claim. Its design is sleek and minimalist—I wonder if airport security regulations impose certain requirements on lines of sight?—and the wall space is small enough that a single wall panel fills the usable surface. The warm lighting and intense color of the back wall create a welcoming atmosphere and encourage you to step inside. Reduced to a few cases and a single wall panel, this exhibition contains all the necessities and is well-pitched to its audience—passengers and welcoming parties with a few minutes to spare, lured into this oasis amidst the usual airport ruckus.
A current exhibition at the Getty Center highlights precisely those things we usually don't look at in exhibitions: frames! It's a wonderful subject for a show, touching on questions of taste, stylistic development, craftsmanship, and even the psychology of frames as a concept—for instance, how do they achieve their goal of setting off something else without showing off themselves? Or, taking a look at these ostentatious Louis Style frames, are they in fact meant to show off? The answers to these questions are as intriguingly socially-, historically-, and culturally-dependent as any question about the art within the frames. (You can see a behind-the-scenes slideshow of the Getty exhibition here.) One of my all-time favorite articles in the New Yorker (subject of a previous post) addresses frames in the modern museum, reflecting on the considerations in picking the right frame for a piece, who makes the aesthetic decisions and how, and of course who makes the frames.
Ideas on Display
A humble space to reflect on concepts of museum display as enacted across a wide range of subjects, countries, and approaches.