01
Jan
10

A GUIDE TO HANGING A GALLERY

“There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics. Proletarian literature and art are part of the whole proletarian revolutionary cause”. Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Founder of the People’s Republic of China. “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” (May 1942; published in Selected Works, vol. 3).

As a Gallery director in 1970 it was pretty easy to ‘Hang’ your Gallery. You displayed artworks by collections, periods or styles. Works could be easily located and a sense of familiarity was bred into the enthusiastic gallery visitor. Galleries could be divided according to Modern and Historical styles, Local and International, Movements and Collections. Generally, the trick was to rotate the works in a collection, period or style every so often, so the Gallery was able to display all its collection over a period of time. The Public interest was increased as their favourite works would appear on display at one time or another. The works were framed in their context, which is in the frame of contemporary works with similar stylistic reference points. Many galleries still hang their collections according to these principles. The logical meaning of this Modernist approach to ‘Hanging a Gallery’ relied on the historical context of the works and reinforced a linear understanding of art based on progressive and developmental principles.

The approach in its essence is pragmatic. The meaning of the artwork is conveyed by it being placed in the correct historical ‘box’, or frame of references. This doctrine isolates the meaning of the work in its observable practical traits. So as a gallery visitor my understanding of an artwork is improved by seeing examples of the artist’s works in the context of being framed by their peers. I am meant to observe similarities and differences so I can compare their stylistic progressions to other periods and styles. The gallery may have a vast collection of their works and these can be rotated from time to time without reconsidering a total unrealistic rehang of the gallery. The artwork is seen as positioned in a historical structure. The problem is that the structure is a fabrication and understanding of the artwork is based on empiricist lines of thought.

These sound principles of arrangement and display have been followed in many other disciplines. Video/DVD stores do a similar thing. Videos/DVD’s are displayed by genre: thriller, comedy, action, etc. In both cases, the person/s arranging the collection are not trying to communicate a direct message, although they cannot help but send a message of reading and readings to the public. This approach often says more about the collector/curator than about the collected item.

A way forward is to try to give meaning to the works on display while acknowledging the context of the Gallery and its artworks in its local community with the bias of the Display Artist (or even better display artist’s) left transparent. The Gallery becomes a place where the viewer is confronted by works that have been chosen from a wide range of time frames and periods with the aim of provoking debate and engaging local interests, concerns, fears etc. This means that the Gallery visitor is not engaged in a purely Empiricist debate, but rather a virtual one. The Gallery becomes a place where the viewer experiences relationships that actively engage local issues with the understanding that the context of the display has been arranged to enhance these specified needs. What become important are the relationships established between the Items, the Selector, the Viewer and the Environment. The emphasis on context can be achieved by hanging artworks by community themes or concepts.

The Display Artist/s [a.k.a. curator] create an experience through selection. The approach of provoking meaning and readings frees the individual items from being seen in isolation or in a linear time frame. The items become contexturalised in present ideas. The meaning of the individual artworks is always shifting and being regenerated. Meaning becomes flexible, temporary and transient. This means that the importance of the Gallery shifts from passive receptor to active engager of meaning. The Gallery dis-plays the role of a peoples place where learning, reconciliation and reflection take place. The role of the Display Artist/s shifts from arranger (archivist) to communicator (artist). The role of the Gallery shifts from the cacophony of individual voices of disarray to interactive collective community engendered.

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