What a huge treat and privilege to learn from US curator Ileen Gallagher‘s vast experience in our session on 2 Nov, followed by a lecture to a wider audience.
My notes from her workshop to our course group are below, this is a long post as I wanted to capture the mini handbook that Ileen gave us, as well as a bit of background.
You may not know her name because most of her work is in the US, and, as she says, “I don’t think of curators as the stars. It’s about the work.” But notably, she worked with the Rolling Stones to curate Exhibitionism (2016) at the Saatchi Gallery, an exhibition not just about their history, but about the band’s effects on culture.
I was also struck with Gallagher’s extensive use of the first person in interpretation, so in Exhibitionism you hear / read the voices of the Stones and people who knew them. This gives the audience an impression of getting special insights, information that they wouldn’t get elsewhere, and is a great way to connect. Art exhibitions (rather than pop culture) tend to be third person, which can act as an intermediary, distancing the audience from the exhibits. It’s like “the voice of god” imparting expert knowledge!
Also that she was a fan of the low tech interaction, to engage an audience, such as temporary tattoos at the Harley exhibition, which were hugely popular, especially amongst tattooed bikers!
The exhibition, unlike the cinema or theatre, is a place for people to connect and discuss. Hi tech gadgets and digital can get in the way of that, if not designed carefully. Although not a fan of headsets, Gallagher acknowledged their huge popularity.
Ileen was good enough to give us some down to earth advice about our collaborative project, reminding us to think of the audience and what is unique about our exhibition.
I’ll definitely look out for her work in future.
Gallagher started in arts museums, now popular culture.
1st client Harley Davidson. Travelling exhibition to celebrate 100 year anniversary, 2003. Went to raceways, festivals. Used mostly off the shelf tents (marquees) that could be hired everywhere.
Four thematic areas.
“There’s nothing like a low tech interaction” in an exhibition
Harley now have a museum.
Aesthetic experience because Harley prides themselves on this, as well as bikes.
Worked with Disney family on a museum about Walt Disney, the man, in San Francisco. Imp that voice of exhibition was directly from Walt or people who worked with him. No intermediary voice, “voice of god” telling you things.
Exhibitionism about the history of the Rolling Stones.
Aimed to show their impact on popular culture e.g. film, fashion. They e always been involved in the zeitgeist of the arts.
Exhibition organised thematically.
Mannequins had rock & roll poses, developed for rock and roll hall of fame. Steven Jones, the milliner, made head pieces for the mannequins, faces printed on fabric. Evocative of David Bailey album cover photo with scarves.
Challenge where nothing 3-dimensional to show eg Monterey Pop exhibition. Large screens and panels, furnishings etc to compensate.
What makes a good exhibition?
As curator, how do you facilitate this?
- Good exhibition design and content development
- Contact with real objects
- Beginning, middle and end.
- Sense of drama, high and low moments
- Content is respected
- Ideas are supported by objects and objects by ideas.
- Objects without context have no meaning
Fundamental understanding of audiences
Who is your audience?
What do they bring to the exhibition and why do they come?
A knowledge of different learning styles.
Know your subject and organise the content
Core attributes and values
What do you want to be the takeaway from the exhibition? What is the one (or more) facts / experiences that you want them to remember
Content organisation. Only really two ways of organising content: thematic or chronological.
Chapters or acts. Divide up subject matter
Who is the voice of the exhibition? If possible, first person. Engages audience, makes them feel they are getting special insights.
Exhibition design phases
- Research and content immersion
- Project goals: scholarship, new insights, new point of view?
- Practical things, parameters: size, budget
- Title – nail down asap
- Content organisation and space allocation
- Focal objects and big ideas
- Traffic pattern and flow
- Space plan and circulation
- Quantify audio visual and interactive
- Assess conservation and security requirements
- Connect the content to the design strategies
“The best exhibitits truly integrate content and design”
3. Design development
- Complete object lists and all objects placed
- Test big ideas and prototypes
- Audio visual rough cuts. 2 minute rule for standing and watching something.
- Implement conservation and security
- Colour and material selection
- Audio visual hardware selection. Don’t just plonk a monitor on a wall.
4. Construction documentation
5. Construction fabrication
Build audio visual, interactive
Sequencing is key
7. Evaluation and assessment
What modifications can be made to enhance the experience?
References and links
Exhibitionism (2016) [Exhibition]. Saatchi Gallery, London. 3 April – 4 September 2016.
Harley Davidson Museum , Milwaukee http://www.harley-davidson.com/content/h-d/en_GB/home/museum.html
ISG Productions http://sheppardgallagher.com/
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (pictured below), Cleveland Ohio https://www.rockhall.com/