By: Alexandra Phillips, January 23, 2012
Art exhibitions are traditionally the space in which art objects (in the most general sense) meet an audience. The exhibit is universally understood to be for some temporary period unless, as is rarely true, it is stated to be a “permanent exhibition”. In American English, they may be called “exhibit”, “exposition” (the French word) or “show”. In UK English, they are always called “exhibitions” or “shows”, and an individual item in the show is an “exhibit”. Such expositions may present pictures, drawings, video, sound, installation, performance, interactive art or sculptures by individual artists, groups of artists or collections of a specific form of art. The art works may be presented in museums, art halls, art clubs or private art galleries, or at some place the principal business of which is not the display or sale of art, such as a coffeehouse. An important distinction is noted between those exhibits where some or all of the works are for sale, normally in private art galleries, and those where they are not. Sometimes the event is organized on a specific occasion, like a birthday, anniversary or commemoration.
In my experience a work of art has multiple phases of existence, beginning as a notion or idea within the artist, becoming manifest in whatever form the artist sees fit within the closed system of the studio or site and then inevitably, in the case of all works to which I can refer, comes the exhibition phase. When the work enters the public sphere by whatever means; how that event takes place, what is said and entire context in which it is seen in some ways becomes a part of the work its self. It is sort of like a first impression. Then the rest is hearsay.
The fervor surrounding art exhibits began in France with the shift from art presented only to patrons and the state to exhibitions opening to the masses. They became events known for great accolades for as well as harsh criticisms against the work by viewers, critics and artists.
These exhibits were categorized not only by the art being displayed, but also by the debates surrounding the work. The French Salons spawned the world of art criticism and gossip been with us ever since. The art exhibition, particularly the group show remains a place where new ideas are presented, opinions are shared, patterns are noticed and people engage in a dialogue. The conversation may extend past the work itself. The event of showcasing art can be a clash of political, social and artistic concerns that do not always agree. Good shows are capable of creating a certain energy and excitement unmatched in other avenues.
The Impressionists whose paintings were displayed in Paris 1874 did away with the old style red walls of the Academy and began to strip the space coloring the walls to match the paintings. What did not change for them from the old style was the salon style hanging method. The paintings were still stacked in a way that allowed a comparison from picture to picture, from artist to artist. This style of hanging provokes a dialogue. It also presents the notion of a collective thrust in the work on display be it in concept, technique or otherwise.
Salon style shows give the viewer a chance to process a large group of artists immediately opening the door for comparison. Not to deem best or worst but mostly to experience the enjoyment of taking in so much in such a concise manner.
The most groundbreaking shows in modern art history are those that included works by many artists. From what was happening on the German art scene in the early 1900’s with groups like Die Brucke and Blaue Reiter to New York in the 1950’s with events like The 9th Street Show, there is something the viewer cannot deny about the energy of artists in concert.
A show like this, in a venue of this type is a pleasant blast of energy that can only happen with an overload of voices all speaking at once. Group shows, particularly those hung in this manner, allow a sort of freedom in viewing and conversing.
This space is offering people something to see of artists working now. Spaces like Spray Booth offer a platform for artists to communicate with each other as well, playing out the necessary role of artist as viewer. A neutral space to show and view art is important for the cultivation of new dialogues among artists, non-artists and whoever else.
“To exhibit is to find friends and allies for the struggle” Manet, 1867