Art Galleries and Curation

Did you ever wonder why in the era of Google Art Project and virtual museums people still visit ‘real’ art galleries? We have access to almost everything from the comfort of our living room and yet we still can be bothered enough to travel to and physically walk around some distant building. We can google all paintings of our favourite artists but we still prefer a curator to pick a subset and arrange it for us. And often we’re even willing to pay for this!

But even if you’re not much into art, art galleries are quite interesting. This is from purely architectural point of view. Art and space… or art in space, is the only thing that guides your exploration in these buildings. No arrows telling you where to go, like in an airport. No zones explicitly dedicated to different functions, like in a library. No scheduled classes happening in assigned rooms, like in a school. In an art gallery, you are the master of your own path. There’s nothing and no one telling you where to go next, where to stop, what to look at. No one?

You must have noticed that some museums are like a maze, or one long corridor. You walk through a series of rooms looking at art pieces in a sequence - one after another. Well, here is a shocker: someone designed these sequences for you. Someone wanted you to see those things in this particular order. Those people are called curators and they’re usually rather fantastic at what they do.

But there’s this other group of museums on the other side of the spectrum. The galleries from this group are either open-plan, or have multiple connections between rooms. So that you can walk absolutely everywhere you want, in any sequence you desire. In my PhD I spent 4 years studying how these galleries ‘work’. Even though they allow so much freedom, the patterns of visitors’ engagement are remarkably similar. It is true that no one can pick for you where to look. But by arranging the walls and the configuration of artworks, the curator can change how you look at things. Are you focusing long on a single art piece or jump in between them, comparing things with quick glimpses? The influence of space in that process is truly fascinating.