In December of 2016 the RISD Museum needed to deinstall its European Galleries in order to renovate them. In order to keep the objects on view during this project and accommodate them after their removal, the museum decided to put them in the galleries dedicated to major, temporary exhibitions, titling it Intermission.
Returning to the newly renovated European Galleries in the Fall of 2017, the collection will be displayed to reflect the issues, materials, and processes that shaped artistic production. Works of art from the Middle East and Asia will appear alongside European works, demonstrating how artists translated new knowledge about the world. This continues the RISD Museum’s reinterpretation project, initiated in 2009, which has included new installations for art from Asia, ancient Greece and Rome, and ancient Egypt, as well as for costumes and textiles.
The exhibition design for Intermission needed to communicate this “open storage” idea. That this temporary display was something that was very unusual for a museum gallery and was offering a unique opportunity to see these objects un-curated and out of context.
To focus on the idea that this display was a pause from the ordinary for an art museum we used a signifier that performs this function in text, the bracket. Brackets are a pair of marks used to enclose words or figures so as to separate them from the context. Here we used large matte vinyl brackets to enclose the works of art on display when seen from the initial vantage point at the entry of the gallery. We used the white walls of the gallery and black vinyl to keep the graphics tied to their syntactic function. We wanted to keep the graphics as simple as possible to communicate that the viewer was really free to create their own didactics here. Unhinged from culture, medium, or timeline – all conventional art museum display methodologies — Intermission would offer a unique chance to apply personal narrative and importance to works.
We used a 3-d modeling program to configure the objects in the gallery and scale the title to create the grammatical reference of the brackets. June drew custom brackets adjusting the stroke width to work at that scale calling the right amount of attention to them in the gallery. The serif typeface Arnhem, part of the museum brand, that might typically be used for a text face for this collection, gives this exhibition a more contemporary look used at this scale and in this bolder black and white color scheme.
By keeping the objects on view, the museum could continue using them in their on-going programs, save time and money of moving the objects and storing them off-site, and offer a chance to see works in the collection outside of methodologies that can be criticized as privileging one point of view over others.
On the downside, visitors do often want to know more about the works and what their art historical significance is and even though they could learn more about them from the url to the museum's website, many of the objects don't have any extended text about them beyond their title, maker, medium, date, etc. So sometimes letting the works speak for themselves, leaves visitors wanting to know more.
art direction: Derek Schusterbauer, graphic design: June Shin, photos: Brendan Campbell