A display that blurs the boundaries between art, life, and even display itself is a wonderful and paradoxical thing. The Art Institute of Chicago achieved this by reconstructing the room depicted in Van Gogh's painting The Bedroom—and then listing it on AirBnB for interested renters! As a promotional tool for the Institute's Van Gogh exhibition, this is a cunning tactic; but more than that, it is an exemplar of how the content of an exhibition can inspire (or even become) the display method—and how both can give rise to an unusually vital visitor experience.
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.