Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How's it Hanging?

Exhibition Design

by David Dernie
W.W. Norton, 2006
192 pages, hardcover

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

When you need a roadmap to navigate the world of exhibits, architect David Dernie, exhibition designer and head of the Manchester School of Architecture, gives you several in his new book, Exhibition Design. It is the must-have bible for understanding every detail imaginable when it comes to displaying artistic works. The book is professionally approached from start to finish and lives up to its promise that readers will come away inspired and informed. The large format trim size, full page reproductions and tasteful design of this book make it an exhibition of its own.

In the introduction, Dernie lays out the philosophies behind exhibiting works of art. Through careful examination, he brings the past, present, and future into play so readers can understand how various techniques for display methodology have developed and continue to expand in a competitive arena. He discusses the importance of the exhibit designer’s strategically important inclusion of the whole set of products created when a museum plans an exhibition. These include books, merchandise, films, electronic media, clothing, gift products, and more.

Exhibition is sectioned into two main categories: Approaches and Techniques. In Approaches, readers are given examples of how narrative space, performative space, and simulated experience are utilized. At the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gas canisters used in the concentration camps are on display as a separate detail, giving measured weight to the exhibit’s shocking account of this historic period as visitors roam through reconstructions of a typical camp’s interior. Floor plans are also provided as diagrams with arrows showing how visitors flow through exhibits for maximum circulation. Complicated installations are examined, such as The Weather Project at the Tate Modern in London where a simulation using mirrors created a kind of live-in artwork experience.

The second section called Techniques, brings to the forefront the nuts-and-bolts of how display, lighting, color, sound and graphics have been used for maximum impact. Lighting is a make-or-break element to any exhibition, but the other themes in this section are equally vital to any well run display. One of Dernie’s examinations in this half of the book is a look at the International Center of Photography’s display on the history of photography in magazines. A clever technique used in this exhibition was the construction of angled display panels to illustrate the concept of field of vision.

Exhibition does a fair job of including examples of shows by award-winning architects and designers as well as minor artist-designed displays. There are major institutions and simple business fairs to study and compare. This book is ideal for a host of picture professionals, museum aficionados and both seasoned and beginning exhibit designers. Learning the special language and terms used in preparing any type of exhibit is critical. Exhibition nails these terms to the wall while providing plenty of examples to help plan and execute a winning exhibit.

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