Table of Contents
Exhibitions may be characterised by content, genre and venue, or the type of audience to focus on. In this chapter, we characterise major types and describe how they influence planning and visitor management.
There are national heritage sites (in Budapest, Heroes’ Square and the Buda Castle District are such examples) where the genius loci contributes to the exhibition, even if it is not utilised by curators or developers. In some cities like Berlin or Vienna, museums are concentrated on “museum islands”. Other museums are isolated because they are in the outskirts of a big city, or the locations they are situated in are far away from regional centres.
As could be seen in the third chapter of this book, exhibitions may be organised in the most unusual places – on a lake, for example. Some of the displays have restricted access; others are only visible for a short period of time. All these aspects have an effect on the arrangement of an exhibition.
What makes an exhibition space unusual? In this chapter we discuss this issue from a technological viewpoint. Perhaps the space it occupies is peculiar: it is in a cave underneath a hill, (like the Cave Hospital on Castle Hill in Budapest) or an exhibition on a lake (like the “Art on Lake” exhibition mentioned in Chapter 3), or falling rocks on a peaceful street (with a sculpture that includes elements hanging from the roof of a house.)
Unusual arrangements often present conservation problems. A low or high level of illumination, damage caused by sun rays or air pollution or street furniture that cannot be harmonised with the temporary exhibits often limit the number of items we can display. In other cases, the unusual scenery produces beneficial effects and provides an inspiring context for an exhibition. Many industrial buildings have been remodelled into exhibition areas, because the large spaces designed for industrial production and the steel structures of the ceiling produce an interesting contrast with the works exhibited. In the pictures below we show how these effects are put to use by exhibition developers.
The duration of an exhibition varies from a very short time span up to years and decades.
– Chamber exhibition: a small-scale display that is open for a short time period –a few hours, a day or a week. Such exhibitions are organised for conferences, trade shows or festivals.
– Temporary exhibitions: regularly organised by museums with large collections which last for a few weeks or months. (The duration depends on the availability of the works on loan, the number of potential visitors, the schedule of the exhibition facility etc.)
– Permanent exhibition: it may stand for years. Museum staff generally consider an exhibition outdated after five to ten years. In such a time period, the exhibits wear out, the installations fall apart and also the content and message of the display become outdated. The style of museum communication also changes and makes an old exhibition appear obsolete. Nevertheless, financial reasons sometimes keep permanent exhibitions in place for 20-30 years. Such displays are visited by professionals for their “museum of museology” appeal. There are also visitors who actually prefer traditional installations of the type they have seen during school visits and which they can now share with their own children.
– Travelling exhibitions provide a transition between the two latter types: they can be on loan at a venue for years, or else be open for a month at each venue. They are like franchises: their content and form is more or less constant, but items from the museums that temporarily house them may be added to the display.
The life span of an exhibition is a matter of professional decision, even in the case of permanent displays. We can plan for a change, but there is always unexpected damage that calls for immediate action. Unfortunately, Hungarian exhibition developers are inclined to leave an installation unchanged even if it turns out to be faulty immediately after the opening. Lack of funds and motivation are inhibiting factors that prevent immediate reaction to mistakes.
The space an exhibition occupies depends on its type. A unique installation is a significant, usually large object placed in an entrance hall or other central location. A chamber exhibition may be situated in a small hall, but it could involve one glass case only, or a corner in a research lab with old tools. A showcase in a shopping mall or trade fair also belongs to this type of exhibition. Many museums reserve one hall for temporary exhibitions. These spaces are usually rectangular and easy to view as a whole, but with dividing panels an intricate spatial arrangement can also be achieved. If this hall can only be accessed through galleries of the permanent exhibition, the temporary exhibitions act like a natural extension of the permanent collection on view. Museum spaces can be turned into an intricate network where visitors easily lose their way. In the galleries, room numbers and arrows indicate the sequence of a visit preferred by curators. However, these are often ambiguous and the experience of space can become that of a labyrinth.
If the museum has a garden, it can also be involved in the exhibition route and create an open-air exhibition of machines or sculptures. Finally, there are open air museums, where the landscape is part of the experience. Sometimes museums are “places of contradiction”.
„In some museums, architecture and interpretation seem almost oppositional. Nordiska Museet in Stockholm possesses a sublime and imposing cathedral-like architecture which now seems at odds with the museum’s strongly humanistic interpretation. Today, the balcony-like exhibition galleries are visually separated from the museum’s great - and largely empty - central hall.” (Dodds et al., 2012, p. 23.