January - a Little Gallery experience.
We ask, "What’s a museum or gallery for anyway? "
"What happens to a work of art when it gets placed in a gallery setting?"
A Little History:
Galleries of art as we know them today, before they became public institutions, were once semi-private spaces in the homes of European collectors. In these spaces, works of art were hung as maps of family history or intellectual and economic power. They were the formal waiting areas and inner courtyards of palaces and estates where public and private life met. For some, they became the destination itself. Shops were set up to hire out swords and silver buckles or the ‘appropriate attire’ needed to get through the gates to these sanctums that held precious collections.
With the rise of cultural tourism in the 18th Century - the time of The Grand Tour- countries took Italy’s lead and began to build national galleries as public manifestations of cultural achievement.
The architecture of the museum space that we know today owes much to the passions and interests of Sir John Soane. He turned his home into a museum of architecture so that he could show examples of architecture's guiding principles to his students. Soane's ideas of designing a space around objects and symbolism informed many public instructional designs.
Today, most new museums prefer the idea of the ‘white cube’ space - a neutral, evenly lit space where any work is left to hang undisturbed by its surroundings. The interpretative materials control any meaning that might be imparted one given work and the ‘curatorial choices’ made by those who are given the task of hanging or placing art works together in a room. How an artwork relates to another is much like the pattern of human contact in that everyone has their own way of communicating with and understanding of the world around them.
It is this very idea of how an art work is affected by this space that, in more recent years, has been the fuel behind the question of what is art? Can any object that is made or found be placed in a museum as an exhibit and therefore become a work of art, or of national importance?
Complete your January gallery experience with books, movies, crafts, games, podcasts and more:
Experience It - 'A Little Culture' Events
Watch with the kids: A Night in the Museum.
A History of the World in 100 objects
A 100 part series by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, exploring world history from two million years ago to the present.