I travelled to the Netherlands and Belgium to visit museums and galleries in Rotterdam and Antwerp to further research how work was being exhibited and how those techniques might be applied to my work for FMP. I also looked at many photobooks and had the benefit of the principal exhibition in the Fotomuseum Antwerp be about the history of Belgian Photobooks.
My first stop was Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. The main exhibit was a retrospective of the Dutch photographer Ed van der Elksen titled “Lust for Life.” It was quite differently curated and hung than the Cas Oorthuis, “Dit is Cas” exhibition I saw last September, and I appreciated how the museum’s curatorial staff adapted their techniques to the suit the artist’s work so effectively. Several aspects stood out in the “Lust for Life” exhibition: 1) Simplicity of the photographic installation – edge to edge printing, no mounting except very thin backing board (Fig 1);
Figure 1- Minimal mounting
2) How effective both solid white and solid black walls were in making the colour photos stand out with neither being more or less effective or detracting (Fig 2);
Figure 2- Black and White Walls
3) The use of simply constructed temporary modules to augment fixed wall space and to direct flow (Figs 3-5). Simple, relatively inexpensive, but effective construction that served multiple purposes as display space and traffic director. Being exposed also provided a contemporary and almost casual feel that suited Ed van der Elksen’s style and subject matter;
Figure 3- Temporary Walls
Figure 4 – Temporary Wall construction
Figure 5 -Temporary construction
4) How effective projected images with either some narration or music were (Fig 6);
Figure 6 – Projected Images with Temporary Construction
and 5) Perhaps my favourite part of the exhibition was a multi-screen projected series of images set to music and introduced with text slides at the major transition points presented in a ‘living room’ setting with a mix of sofas and chairs randomly arranged (Fig 7). Viewers were provided with headsets to listen to the music that accompanied the images and it made the viewing very intimate and personal.
Figure 7 – Multi-Screen projected display
This images projected were in many cases the same as those shown in the main gallery upstairs as individual images on the walls, but I found this to be very engaging and dynamic as the images changed at different times on each of the screens and required the viewers eyes to move quickly between images in contrast to upstairs where one could linger with an image and study it in detail. While upstairs didn’t promote a narrative and the photos were somewhat randomly arranged in terms of location and time frame, the downstairs projected version was far more narrative and organised in logical segments, topically or chronologically.
I can see this as a very viable approach to exhibiting my work if I can find the appropriate space and solve the technological aspects as it would allow a fast paced, coherent narrative approach while the still image prints in another section would allow the viewer to engage with specific images more fully.
Antwerp was the next stop and I took in several venues while there. Fotomuseum Antwerp was largely between major exhibitions and was a flurry of activity preparing for 3 openings the following week. However, the exhibit that was open was on the history of the photobook in Belgium. Figure 8 is an except from the exhibition introduction. It describes the significance of the photobook as a media form as well as the history of the place the photobook has held in Belgian history.
Figure 8 – Photobook Belge Exhibition Introduction
Many of the books were understandably behind glass cases, but the curators used tablet computers with video of the books being turned page by page which I found a clever way of allowing the public to see inside these rare books. There we also a number of books located throughout the exhibition that were available to the visitor to sit and look through selected books. A large number of the books on exhibit were created during the colonial period and dealt with the African colonies and their inhabitants. Many were propaganda and the curators addressed the notion of “colonial gaze” head on in the introduction to that section of the exhibit.
Mounted on one wall were pages from a 1911 book that chronicled a vegetation survey in the various districts of Belgium (Fig 9-10). I found this interesting and relevant in its similarity to work I have been undertaking, but also in something that I have perhaps been remiss in recording in my work; latitude and longitude information. That is an omission I intend to correct, particularly since the camera can be set to record that information in the metadata automatically.
Figure 9 – 1911 Vegetation Survey Plate
Figure 10 – 1911 Vegetation Survey Plate
The exhibition also touched on the inter-relationship between words and images. I thought the introduction to this section displayed in Figures 11 and 12 summarised the issue well.
Figure 11 – Photobook Belge exhibit section
Figure 12 – Detail of above
So while the prints in the Nederlands Fotomuseum exhibition were unframed and uniform in size and placement, the Saul Lieter exhibition at Gallery FIFTY ONE and the exhibits in the Antwerp Museum of Contemporary Art (M HKA) were decidedly different. While the Lieter photos were all mounted and framed in a similar way, they were not all the same size and they were hung quite differently on different walls. Some were evenly spaced and set at uniform height, while others were arranged in patterns nearly symmetrical, but not quite (Fig 13).
Figure 13- Lieter Exhibition at Gallery FIFTY ONE
I was unable to discern a reason for the arrangement and order in which these photos were hung, but it shows that it is not essential to have symmetry in a hanging plan. Similarly at M HKA there were exhibits that demonstrated asymmetry, but also there were others that were more traditionally arranged (Figs 14-16).
Figure 14 – M HKA asymmetry example 1
Figure 15 – M HKA asymmetry example 2
Figure 16 – M HKA symmetry example 1
As is evident in Figures 14-16 all the photos were mounted and framed in a similar way, however, in other areas, simple thin backing with edge to edge prints were used (Fig 17), and in another area bordered prints were pinned to the wall with no mounting at all (Fig 18).
Figure 17 – M HKA thin backing, edge to edge print
Figure 18 – M HKA pinned print
The final point from M HKA was an installation of newspaper clippings that occupied 4 walls in a large section of the gallery. The clippings were seemingly each randomly mounted on coloured backing paper and then arranged according to the colour together on one wall (Fig 19).
Figure 19 – M HKA Newspaper clippings
As I am considering using references to on-line and print media as part of my exhibition, this was informative. I don’t believe I would choose to replicate this format, but it was interesting to see how current news was gathered and collated to create an art installation.
In summary, this research provided some valuable insights into the ways exhibitions can be staged and proof that there is no one correct way to stage a successful exhibition. It also offered some stimulating ideas that I plan to explore further in coming weeks.