The Role of the Visitor: A Few Thoughts on my Appreciation for Good Curation (Courtney Escoyne)

I have spent a lot of time in museums and galleries this semester. I mean a lot. That’s what happens when you sign up for British Art in London. But I’ve also spent time in the same galleries we visit in class–The National Gallery and the V&A immediately come to mind–on my own, whether for an assignment or just for my own personal enjoyment. I have been many kinds of visitor on these trips. I have been part of a student group, looking at a specific object being lectured on by my professor; I have been a student looking at an entire gallery (BM’s Enlightenment Gallery) or single painting (Thomas Gainsborough’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly) on my own for an assignment; I have been a wanderer through the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries at the V&A. I have long been aware of the different ways one can enter and view a gallery, but I never really considered the fact that curators have to take into consideration the wide variety of people who visit their work and the even wider variety of purposes a person might have in doing so when planning these galleries.

That’s what I found so fascinating about Peta Motture’s lecture. Every single part of any given gallery has been seriously thought out and planned to both communicate knowledge and (hopefully) keep visitors engaged–even down to the size, color, and type of font on gallery texts. The whole process of figuring out the right balance between communicating information to someone who is an expert (or at least adept) in a given field without being dull or reductive and without alienating the visitor with little to no prior knowledge of the topic on display seems, frankly, mind boggling. It cannot be assumed that every single person will go through the gallery the way the curator has planned, nor that they will examine each and every object. The question then becomes one of how to get enough of a sense of the gallery’s topic through any given object and text so that every person comes away with at least some increase in understanding on the topic. As I said, mind boggling. My respect for curators has been raised even higher, and I think that hearing about everything that goes into creating an effective gallery or exhibit has made me appreciate all of the great ones I have been to even more.

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