When we hear the word “museum”, we think about buildings. However, exhibitions are organised in open spaces that are not normally considered as places to encounter works of art or historic documents. Street shows (for example, “Street Views” /Utcaképek/ 2012 in Budapest) are community projects that provide information about a locality or exhibit works of art inspired by (or produced by) people in the area. Images we encounter on the street are sometimes strikingly beautiful or thought-provoking – works of art or social statements that evoke emotions and ideas that are normally the products of a museum visit. Social graffiti by Banksy, installations in public spaces by the Hungarian concept artist Pál Berger, and other examples of street art inspire curators to organise shows that interpret them. (An example: the Hungarian pavilion at the 10th Biennale of Architecture in Venice. The exhibition showed how Chinese immigrants in Hungary reshape the streets of the capital and thus create a second cultural identity, mixed with local images and values.)
A new research method that also results in exhibitions at unusual locations in urban archaeology identifies, documents and presents culturally important images and spaces of a city that may go unnoticed. Such projects are exhibited in the so-called “ruin pubs” in Budapest – pubs functioning in forsaken, derelict apartment blocks that may also become part of urban archaeology research.
Mobile exhibition spaces of museums may also be considered special venues, but in fact they are extensions of the museum that produces them. The Etnomobil 2.0 project organised by the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography with the participation of seventeen Hungarian institutions is a display inside a trailer. It presents a topic very appropriate for the venue: the interrelations of movement and art, illustrated by contemporary objects and stories. Visitors who board the trailer as it stops in towns and villages in Hungary can enrich the repertoire of stories and others things with their own experiences about moving around, travelling, or any other topic associated with mobility. The Petőfi Literary Museum (Hungarian abbreviation: PIM) in Budapest has been offering a variety of mobile exhibitions related to its displays – for example, on the modernisation of the Hungarian language and the centenary of the important literary movement of the beginning of the 20th century linked to the journal Nyugat (Occident). These displays were visited by many people whose first encounter with the world of museums occurred when they curiously entered the bus, which had eye-catching posters on its sides.
Unusual exhibition spaces are inviting because they offer an informal, adventurous encounter with culture that is not threatening and does not appear to be boring and elitist – emotions often associated with a museum visit and preventing many potential museum friends from starting the acquaintance. Sometimes these displays just happen to be there where people go for a leisurely stroll – on a lake, for example. The exhibition entitled Art on the Lake (“Művészet a tavon” in Hungarian), was conceived and co-curated by Krisztina Jerger and organised twice, in 2010 and 2011, on Lake Vajdahunyad, near the prestigious buildings of the Museum of Fine Arts and Art Hall in Budapest. For the second occasion, 35,000 square metres of water were used as exhibition space and twenty-five artists from all over Europe participated with installations specially designed or adapted for the venue. From ten in the morning until ten at night, thousands of visitors entered the site and stared at the pieces from a sidewalk or approached them by boat. Other people – many of whom would never even consider entering an exhibition of modern art – observed the peculiar installations from a nearby bridge with great interest. Nature provided an exciting setting. The aesthetic appeal of works was enhanced by changes of light and reflections on the water.
There are shows that can only be seen for one day, or for a few special days of the year. Such is the “Budapest 100” project that invites visitors to enter Budapest apartment houses that are at least 100 years old. Art treasures hidden in courtyards and corridors are not normally visible for passers-by, not to speak of trellises and frescoes in flats, attics or cellars. Therefore, the days when these buildings open up their gates and the residents offer an introduction to their homes (and often some cultural events and refreshments as well), are much appreciated by the lovers of our capital city. Local guides not only show architectural monuments, they also introduce famous inhabitants of the past and present whose oeuvre was inspired by the environment.
Historical monuments also may be considered exceptional exhibition spaces because they are often reconstructed with added functions to suit modern museum needs. An excellent example: the Cella Septichora in Pécs is a Roman catacomb (burial complex) from the outside, and from the inside, a spacious visitor centre and exhibition hall. The task of the museum designer was to keep the original appearance intact as much as possible, while also catering for contemporary visitor needs.
To summarise this brief overview of the evolution and contemporary forms of the museum building, the conclusion is that the exhibition space has a strong communicative value. Whoever uses it for whatever purpose, the architectural environment has a meaning of its own that must be integrated with the messages of the museum. While solving the tasks below, you may experience what it means to come to terms with the built environment when developing and realising an exhibition project.