Museums such as Tate Modern present works of art in ways that encourage certain sorts of reading. There is a kind of rhetoric of the museum, a persuasive force, sometimes consciously encouraged by curators, sometimes accidental, but yet which can seem to be the product of an implied persona. For this penultimate session of the course 7 Ways of Thinking About Art we examined some of the ways in which curatorial decisions and implied decisions contribute to our understanding. We focussed on the display of works in Room 5 where Francis Bacon's and Louise Bourgeois' works are juxtaposed.
Factors influencing interpretation included lighting, height at which the works are hung, framing and glass (in this case chosen by Bacon - perhaps because of the reflections of the spectators - not knowing this might have led to the assumption that this was a curatorial decision) wall captions, visual echoes (where, for example the visual similarities between some aspects of Bacon's and Bourgeois' are apparent through juxtaposition), but also the location of the particular room (in this case at some distance from the 'Surrealist' hub, perhaps signalling that neither Bacon nor Bourgeois were mainstream Surrealists). Opinions differed about the juxtaposition of these two artists' work: some people found the pairing revealed new aspects of the works; others felt that they were being manipulated to focus on visual rhymes, possibly at the expense of the deeper meaning and significance of works by two great artists.
For further discussion of the role of the curator and of juxtaposition, see these webcasts (i.e. streamed video):
Nigel Warburton 'Juxtapositions' My opening comments are a reaction to Steve Edwards' presentation (see below). In this talk I used Ludwig Wittgenstein's notion of the dawning of an aspect to shed light on our experience of juxtapositions in the gallery.
Frances Morris, Curator and Head of Displays, Tate Modern 'Tate Modern - A Case Study'
You might also want to look at Steve Edwards 'Displaying Modern Art'
Forthcoming major exhibition of Louise Bourgeois's work.