Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Something that’s changed a lot over the years is the way exhibitions are presented. In New Zealand’s post-Te Papa world this job has almost exclusively been given over to designers. So what’s wrong with that? Space, that’s what. Exhibitions live in three-dimensional space and yet most designers come out of graphic design and are trained to be expert in two dimensions. Find some exhibitions feel a little flat? Maybe this is the reason.

We saw an antidote to this limitation at the LA County Museum of Art. They had invited a couple of artists to work with specialist curators in the display of major historic collections - Austrian artist Franz West for the new Pacific collection and Jorge Pardo with work from Latin America. Both had transformed their spaces into dynamic experiences that showcased the specific works and created illuminating juxtapositions. 

The Franz West plinths are extraordinary. Constructed from simply treated wood, the variations he devises in both the number and scale of supports seems to respond to each work individually and yet they add up to a harmonious spatial whole. The effect is enhanced by delicate wall treatments called Pale Mate Tea by Andreas Reiter Raabe (who has shown with the Hamish McKay Gallery). 

Artists are good at developing space that is good to show art in. Billy Apple’s rearrangement of the walls in the City Gallery for his Good as gold exhibition in 1991 was a great example and so was his input into designing Hamish McKay’s front space in Ghuznee Street. You can get a further taste of the possibilities in Francis Upritchard’s installation Save yourself at Te Papa. What might she have done if let loose on some of the permanent collection displays?

Images: Top, Jorge Pardo’s design for Latin American art: ancient to contemporary at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Bottom, Franz West and Andreas Reiter Raabe’s design for the new Pacific collection.