So how do we create a ‘great’ exhibition when each person has a different concept of greatness? Good art is subjective, the viewer may come away from an exhibition with mind altering questions of what they’ve seen, whereas someone visiting the same gallery may have been strolling around bored – it’s subjective. Creating a great exhibition has to appeal to the masses – does this however evoke compromise? What we could do is just follow pre-ordained rules and ideas on curating that we know from experience work, but then if this happens do we not need curators anymore? It is important to make each exhibition feel like it is tailored for each individual, can this be done with vast exhibitions? Marincola does state “Bigger is not necessarily better” (What Makes a Great Exhibition, Paula Marincola, 2015, p.11)
Southsea Green(House) is a great little community garden situated just off Canoe Lake in Southsea, Portsmouth. I managed to get the idea for exhibiting here through a contact in Portsmouth and emailed Carla who organises the site. After several emails Alice Harman and I visited the garden and saw such a potentiel in the location. To put the exhibition into context I’ll give a brief explanation of our art: Alice creates huge abstracts based on disused and discarded items she finds around Portsmouth, not only using found objects as the subject matter but also incorporating them to construct tactile pieces of imposing work. My own work is a selection of illustrations based on text, using colours and lettering to convey memories and ideas – this contrast can only then be suited to an unusual venue, an experience visitors can feel relaxed to wander around, without the pressure of a ‘White Cube’ type environment. This little oasis garden is a perfect mesh of seclusion and centrality.
Philippe Perrano says in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist “Rather than walking through an exhibition, it is delivered to you” (Ways of Curating, Hans Ulrich Obrist, 2014). Even though this is in regards to them playing with the idea of time rather than physicality, the concept of not having art ‘forced’ upon you in a silent room with white walls makes the art more accessible to the visitors, perhaps if they are more relaxed they will find it easier to enjoy the work? Obrist mentions in ‘Ways of Curating’ how placing Art in unusual spaces reaches a broader audience – it lessens the pressure on the viewer by taking them outside of the constraints of a gallery and into a kitchen, hotel room or in our case community garden – a moment of tranquil from reality in the city center.
It could be argued that having so much distraction around the Art would mean the work is lost within its surroundings. However, Obrist also comments in regards to 18th and 19th century paintings that were hung closely together, almost touching that the images would stand out as a juxtaposition to its neighbour – for instance a portrait of a figure hung directly next to a country landscape would contrast so much they would emphasise each other just as much as hanging the metres apart on a white wall (so our work for the exhibition would not only juxtapose each other but also stand out against the backdrop of the garden).
This concept of ‘overcrowding’ is also something I would like to explore personally within my own illustrative practice. By putting the pictures in close proximity to each other like in the 18th and 19th century galleries it could almost represent a comic book structure, a story telling of the illustrations. On a side note – could having the ‘White Cube’ be a distraction also – humans so not live in a reality where there are white walls surrounding what we look at, it’s unnatural to perceive Art that has been orchestrated into something so prestigious. It should be displayed in a way in which the visitor feels comfortable and not intimidated by the formality of a gallery. Would the space at Southsea Green remind visitors of gardens and parks, a sense of ease with lots of aesthetic noise surrounding the work?
Hans Ulrich Obrist talks about the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ – a collection of artworks and mediums displayed together – this concept could be interesting for the Southsea Green exhibition as the whole venue, once curated, could be a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ in itself. If it were made into an experience or an event, not just a display of art – we are already witnessing the art the moment we step through the entrance even if you can not see the actual pieces yet. The whole concept of the pop-up exhibition is to create an experience for the visitor.
Lucy Lippard was interested in the concept of art not necessarily existing in physical form. It could be a social event, the life found within cities and communities. “Transform the activity of Art making into something experienced daily by the inhabitants of the cities […] taking artwork outside of the museum system […] into the streets and parks and fields” (Hans Ulrich Obrist on Lucy Lippard, Ways of Curating, 2014). We want art to not just reach people in the artworld but to the viewers who perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily experience galleries – and exhibition for everyone, not a select few.
Lynne Cooke’s essay In Lieu of Higher Ground featured in ‘What Makes a Great Exhibition’ edited by Paula Marincola (2015) quotes Klaus Bussman and Kasper Konig in describing the ideal exhibition goer, they state that it is not some art expert who devotes their time to the artworld, but rather the average Joe, the random visitor who enters intrigued and leaves with a different mindset or an enriched experience. Cooke also talks about the audience being the primary factor in the exhibition, maybe even more important that the artist themselves – after all who else do we put on exhibitions for.
Whilst at University I was part of a collective in which we constructed an exhibition which existed purely on social media, the space we occupied with our art was live streamed to our Facebook accounts and we had a live presence on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr with updates throughout the day, open to questions posed by those who wouldn’t normally attend galleries either through time constraints, distance or intimidation, but felt they could approach the work we had on display online. This concept broadened the audience who saw our work, it was no longer just for the select few who would show up at the space, but potentially anyone in the world who wanted to experience the exhibition. The exhibition at SOuthsea Green is a more approachable and interactive exhibition and will allow more dialogue about the art in a relaxed environment. The visitor can feel confident to ask questions in an informal manner within the venue with no pressure to understand or feel intimidated by the artwork or space.
“An in-between situation that linked art, design, architecture, bringing people into a dialogue.” (Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ways of Curating, 2014). Obrist quotes Duchamp saying that the viewer does half of the work – this is so true, and if the viewer can then become part of the work then their understanding of the pieces will be made so much easier. We want to make it as accessible as possible to the visitor to understand and appreciate not only the work but also the venue and the experience as a whole, so we need to find ways to make it fun, relaxed and pressure free for the viewers. An exhibition space should not be limited to just the artwork on show, it should be a collision of the senses and a joining of Art and Reality, the Reality of Art.
Throughout his essay entitled Show and Tell answering questions posed by Paula Marincola on ‘What makes a great exhibition’ Robert Storr talks about how exhibitions should not completely expose themselves. They should leave the audience with questions, and their own ideas of what the artwork was asking. It is not the curators job, Storr mentions, to answer these questions for the viewer, it is the curators job to provoke them. A successful exhibition then, with this concept, is not about time and money spent or that it is exhibited in a stellar location, but the viewers communication, understanding and questioning of the artwork.
Ralph Rugoff emphasises in his essay You Talking to Me? On Curating Group Shows that Give You a Chance to Join the Group that a great exhibition should not only make you appreciate the art, but also think about it, question it and also take ideas away from it. He also questions the idea – should a great exhibition allow the audience to make connections not only between individual works of art but also between all the art collectively and the exhibition as a whole. Within our Southsea Green exhibition for example we would encourage a connection to be made with the location of the community gardens and the artwork.
Rugoff makes a very interesting point about how we ‘package’ an exhibition – how it is seen from the outside and the things we choose to exhibit within. Packaging changes our perception of the contents, despite the old adage – we do judge books by their covers – can curators do this in regards to art. When purchasing a bottle of wine for example, all the bottles are virtually identical, and – in most respects, especially to the untrained tongue – so are the contents, however when a label is placed on the bottle it changes our view of it – if it has a bright, vibrant label we picture a fruity lively wine and so our perception of the product has been changed by the packaging. In this respect, then, can a curator do enough throughout the exhibition to entice the audience to read the whole narrative and configure an image in their head at the end that the can take away and ponder – is it possible to package an exhibition enough to give the viewer a taste of what to expect without having to decipher the concepts complexity. WOuld hosting the exhibition in a garden be enough of a hint for people to relax and enjoy the art without imposing too much structure and pomp. Bringing the ordinary space to the artworld, a merger of realities.
Obrist’s ‘Kitchen’ exhibition is of huge influence for this concept. The mix between Art and Reality and Art and Life. The artists involved in the exhibition did not alter the space they were provided with, rather they adapted to it, they injected their work within the kitchen and became part of the room – part of everyday life. “There were no didactic panels or sound guides, and visitors moved where they wished through the rooms, encountering unexpected works of Art in unexpected places.” (Hans Ulrich Obrist on ‘Kitchen’, Ways of Curating, 2014). By placing our own work within our life, our own reality of the garden space inside of the city it could be like introducing the general public to our own reality – a collision of lives.
The idea of having it within an unusual space like the community garden is to create a venue that Art can occupy, rather than just filling an existing room with Art we are creating our own room, our own new, fresh space for Art to reside. This gives the area we are occupying a concept all of its own, it is no longer just a garden but a home for our work tailored just for us, an exhibition for visitors to discover our reality and how we perceive not only Art but the Art World.
Following on from this idea of unusual concepts for venues – an exhibition is not merely complete when set up, it is the beginning of it’s journey, the start of the story that only the viewers can conclude. An exhibition, Ralph Rugoff states, is a form of escapism, a small interactive distraction from the everyday. The viewer can create their own ideas, stories and opinions without distraction from reality – a mini utopia. This is a key observation, if an exhibition does not create this escapism what would be the point of an exhibition? You may as well just view the artworks online and talk about them for those brief minutes before the distractions of reality impose.
Rugoff also talks a lot about themed shows. He poses that a themed show can be detrimental in that it does not allow the audience to have sole control of the interpretation of the work. It tells us what to think by implying the theme from the beginning. This being said however, I don’t believe we are ever able to view an exhibition with complete unbias, even the most untrained eye would have been influenced by how they feel walking in – were they intimidated, was it hard to find, do they like the marketing, their education – all of these factors will immediately put opinions in your head before even viewing the work. Imposing a theme would then not matter, all it does is gently push the viewer in the right direction into how to approach the exhibition. Rugoff does however state that a successful themed show focuses not on a singular theme, they elaborate and question many approaches to the artwork – “They involve us in an implied yet elusive narrative that we end up putting together ourselves as we move through the exhibition” (What Makes a Great Exhibition, ed. Paula Marincola, 2015 p.48)
A true exhibition, in Rugoffs eyes, will have us re-thinking everything we know about art, it should leave us questioning and wanting more (or even less) and that the curators role is solely to provide a space in which the audience can thrive. However if we as the curator can do everything in our power to give the right guidance on how we want the artwork to be displayed within Southsea Green it could provoke the questioning in the right direction.
In ‘Exhibition’ by Lucy Steeds, Peter Osbourne is quoted in using the term “Constructive Intent” in regards to exhibitions not just being a display of the aesthetic, but a creation in itself, a construction of a space with intent to probe discussion, debates and ideas. Exhibitions do not exist to make the audience question how the space was constructed, they exist to make the audience question the art, and perhaps even the art in relation to the space. Exhibitions create debates, ideas and inspiration, with little regard to the surroundings. Steeds talks about the idea of broadening the ‘Exhibition’ to non exhibition goers. Making the space approachable by not labelling it as an exhibition at all, maybe even addressing it in an entirely different way, ditching words like contemporary, modern and even exhibition itself. I’d like to experiment with this concept for the Southsea Green exhibition – or as I may now address it ‘intrigue for the visual senses’ (maybe not).
“[…] alternative spaces, where a quicker response time, more curatorial autonomy, and less financially onerous stakes allow for a concomitantly greater ability to experiment and take risks. […] – bigger is not necessarily better.” (What Makes a Great Exhibition; Introduction: Practice Makes Perfect, Paula Marincola, 2015). To conclude the Southsea Green exhibition – it has been a great experimentation in curatorial practice. Playing with the outdoor space, adapting to the weather, placing the artwork within the restraints of a working garden, and issues with advertising, we have been able to modify accordingly to each issue raised.
Throughout the exhibition we have been very reliant on the weather, thankfully for the first part of the week it was incredibly sunny – not only to draw in the viewers but also to best emphasise our work. However, the past two days have been dramatically sparse, with the rain deterring many people off walking through the park or going to the beach – this being our biggest viewing demographic thus far. On reflection of this we should have prepared for ill weather by having a back up indoor space to exhibit, as our work was solely outside.There is a porta-cabin on the premises, however when we first approached the space we didn’t like the confined rigidity of exhibiting within the dark walls and were more excited by the prospect of the overgrown garden. This being England however, we should have foreseen bad weather and prepared the porta-cabin for use in case of this exact eventuality.
Although we designed a poster for the exhibition we regrettably left it too late. on reflection we should have designed the poster at least a month before the exhibit and placed it on social media as well as in the surrounding area. The garden is surrounded by a park, however there are cafes and pubs as well as shops very close by which would have been a great place to put flyers or hang posters to attract local people. Despite poor advertising the show did have ample visitors on sunny days, mostly people would come in from the park seeing the sign for an exhibition and leave not only having viewed the art but spent quality time exploring the plot and unwinding from the bustling city. Many people commented on the relaxing environment and it gratified our concepts for the show.
Despite the failures we had during the exhibition, most notably the advertisement and lack of adaptation to using an outdoor space (both of which will be attended to in greater detail for the next exhibition) I believe something we should have also done is exhibit more work. Although we believed we had displayed enough, the space was rather large and so some of the works got a bit too lost and were not visible to the viewer who spend on average 7-10 minutes within the garden. If we had a greater amount of work, perhaps they would have been easier to spot and people would have spent more time wandering around appreciating the tranquillity of the garden as well as the artwork.