Galleries, museums and exhibitions are regarded as spaces that house high art. The majority of said spaces – especially those who have a long history – hold an air of class, self-importance and exclusivity. So, if you visit these cultural spaces and don’t feel moved, aren’t inspired or are completely bored, what does this mean? Are you the simpleton? Do you just not “get art”? Or do you have no taste?
I don’t believe so. Economist Allison Schrager says “galleries set taste and prices—sets is actually an understatement. Galleries manipulate prices to an extent that would be illegal in most industries” in her High-end art is one of the most manipulated markets in the world article.
I’m a multidisciplinary artist who has visited shows that were not stimulating, that didn’t ignite or teach much – besides the confirmation that this is all subjective. The gallery and show lists that were presented to me during my bachelor’s degree left me disappointed. And although much of the art they suggested was not for me – it was a very narrow western and white centered list – it was the presentation that really played a big part in how I felt.
Not enjoying a day out the museum or at an artist’s solo show doesn’t mean that the art itself is not great, but it might mean that the presentation of it isn’t. Audience experience should be considered and developed more in the practice of curation and exhibition making. We are in 2020 and, for the most part, art hanging on or in conversation with a white space is still the standard. Other different styles of presentation are often considered not clean, a distraction or without class.
The model around presenting and exhibiting art in the modern world has been based off a colonial racist and specifically anti-black gaze. This is increasingly clear when you consider that, in the periods that are defined as the early modern and current modern world, African history and civilization is barely considered and when it is it starts with the Atlantic Slave trade and ends with post-colonial Africa.
The majority of renowned art institutions are racist, outdated and classist. Seeing as they set the standard for what is exceptional their practices often trickle down to even grass roots progressive art initiatives.
What does it look like when this gaze isn’t considered? What happens when the development of presentation is regarded as just as important? What is the result when artists are respected as the experts who know best to communicate their work and not be told that “it is too much”, “uncomfortable”, and “unsophisticated”? The experience is elevated.
Are Artists the Better Curators? – an article for BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors – says “artist-curated shows as opposed to curator-curated shows have the ability to be subjective and free from institutional constraints or rigid art-historical categories.” Artists must be heavily involved in the optics of how their work will be exhibited and therefore what their work will say when exhibited.
“The artist emerges as someone who carries a special responsibility for critiquing art’s institutions, brings considerable creativity to the craft of making exhibitions and, through experimentation, has changed the way exhibitions are understood to be authored and experienced. But the book also establishes a curious ubiquity to the artist-curated exhibition. Rather than being exceptional or rare, artists curate all the time and in all kinds of places: in galleries and in museums, in studios, in borrowed spaces such as shopfronts or industrial buildings, in front rooms and front windows, in zoos or concert halls, on streets and in nature. Seen from the perspective of artists, showing is a part of making art.” – Description of When Artists Curate: Contemporary Art and the Exhibition as a Medium by Alison Green (2018)
In the process of showcasing art creativity, ironically, isn’t factored in the way it should be. Because the colonial gaze is standard there is, what I would consider, a very disposable, “I know better than thou”, “the artist is a chess piece in my game” approach toward shows.
“All too often however, no room is left in the creative process to brainstorm on the exhibition’s content and experience with the design team – and many valuable ideas can come out of this forum as well. All too often this process is not valued or budgeted and interesting opportunities are not given the light of day.” – Geneviève Angio-Morneau, Creative Director at GSM
The quoted references so greatly support the idea that the show itself is art. There must be a budget, provisions, arrangements, insurance, respect and cooperation for the show to function at its highest as art. If we are going to show the work lets go all the way and do it properly – no matter who the artist is. Currently, it feels like it is only standard for installation, multidisciplinary, and/or extremely established artists.
British Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor is a shining example of using space to advance the audience’s experience of art and pushing forward the practice of exhibition making. In her presentation for the 2018 Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series, Viktor describes how she started to consider the significance of installation and space. Saying, “I started to think about how to play with space, how to play with visibility. Almost like a proverbial jewel box around the work. I wanted to create worlds through the work”.
She goes on further to tell how in her studio, she has a created a blue room – a colour she is widely known to use – where she houses the work in production. She describes it as the right setting to appreciate the gold element in her work and its entirety.
Lina discusses Black Exodus, a solo show of hers held in London. She had the entire space blacked out. The reason being that it serves as a meditative, quiet space with a different frequency, all of this contributes to having time with the work, encountering it in an intimate way. She also cited that being a student of architecture heavily influenced the creation of the room, referencing the importance of architecture that supports the work and rather than just putting works on a wall.
The intention, the detail and craft implemented in her display of her work is an important factor in her success and fulfilment. Her statements make it clear that without it the work wouldn’t be done justice, wouldn’t be appreciated in their highest form. She created her first piece in 2013 and by 2020 has had multiple solo and group shows and is represented by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery. For that period of time, these are great accomplishments and I believe that her understanding of packaging and image – past the physical artworks and into their introduction – has played a huge part in that.
Other artists who have used space for enhancement are; Kara Walker, American contemporary painter, installation artist, and filmmaker, Glasgow based painter and installation artist France-Lise McGurn, Chris Ofili British painter and Kione Grandison a British multidisciplinary artist.
In my own practice I’ve made it a point to use space to serve my artwork. With my most developed exercise being my MA degree show in the summer of 2019. It fortified the experience of my work, left me with a showcase I was wholeheartedly proud of and led to great opportunities. Going forward, when opportunities arise, I will always make it a point to highlight this. And will support fellow artists in university, grass roots collectives or established to do the same. If we are going to create in the first place we might as well go all the way.
chiizii is a visual artist and designer born in London, raised in New York with an Igbo background. Her work serves as social commentary, expression of thoughts and analysis of others and self. It focuses on Black cultures where Blackness is ever present. Whilst its other qualities are examined. Engage with her on her website or on instagram