The process of bringing exhibitions to life is a captivating journey that often remains unseen by visitors. In this interview with Niovi Kritikou, we delve into the behind-the-scenes world of creating a complete and engaging experience for art enthusiasts. From curatorial decisions to the selection of artworks and the techniques employed to ensure a seamless flow within exhibition spaces, our expert offers valuable insights into the art of curation. Discover the art of translating abstract concepts into accessible experiences and the unique challenges that curators face as they orchestrate the presentation of diverse artworks. Join us as we explore the intricate world of exhibition curation, where every decision contributes to the birth of a new work of art.
Our interview with Niovi Kritikou, part two;
The way exhibitions come to life always fascinates us. Could you share some information about the behind-the-scenes of creating a complete experience for visitors?
Initially, curating is divided into various institutional or non-institutional practices. Depending on the work or project at hand, the goal is to have a supporting text that provides the viewer with a deeper understanding of the work. Then, the setup should convey the meaning while allowing each work to breathe and highlight the overall result. A good curation is like giving birth to a new work of art. Presentation, lighting and/or framing are different fields actively participating in the realization of an exhibition.
However, the most important thing is to create an experience that engages the viewer's gaze. This is achieved sometimes with simplicity and clarity, while other times, senses and stimuli beyond the visual are involved. Music or some installation can give a new dimension to the visual work of art.
Regarding the selection of artworks for an exhibition, I imagine there are many factors to consider. Could you provide some insights into the process of choosing artworks that come together to create a unified narrative?
In exhibitions featuring multiple artists, the goal is to unify the artworks under a common aesthetic and thematic framework. Often, the role of the curator is not only to compose diverse works to achieve an aesthetic result but also to select works that communicate what Goethe called "elective affinities." In other words, a fundamental criterion for choosing artists for a thematic exhibition is for their artworks to communicate on a deeper level. They may share common stimuli. For example, in the group exhibition "Home Spectrograph" held at the Metts Arts Center in January 2023, featuring Panagiota Antonopoulou, Maria Mangioli, Athena Misegiani, Phaedra Charla, and Danae Tsolaki, the theme revolved around the monumental dimension of an abandoned house that was revived and transformed into an art space.
As a result, I selected artists with common characteristics related to concepts of decay, detachment, the worn-out, archival materials, objects preserved in a museum-like manner, and oblivion or forgetfulness. The chosen artworks for the exhibition not only shared these conceptual extensions but also had a common color palette that ranged from variations of white to the natural colors of paper or wood materials. To enhance the viewer's experience and unify the artists under the umbrella of a household spectrometer, I invited composers Dimitris and Pavlos Kordis to create a resonation of a melody using technical means. This musical backdrop played on a loop throughout the exhibition, provoking viewers to identify with the emotion of the exhibition.
What are some strategies or techniques you use to ensure a smooth flow and engagement throughout the exhibition space?
The technique always depends on the space. Each space has its own criteria and conceptual directions. Indicatively, it's worth mentioning the White Cube/Box approach, which involves placing artworks in a large unified space with white walls and a gray floor, where the artworks are spaced far apart from each other, with strong and proper lighting that does not create shadows around the artwork.
Another practice is to group artworks into thematic units with carefully considered dimensions in order to create an imposing composition, like a triptych or quadriptych, which, however, was not initially created as such.
Finally, my favorite practice is unconventional curation based on Institutional critique theories and involves the artist and curator's effort to actively engage the viewer in the viewing process. Such curation means that artworks are placed in a synthetic manner rather than linear. Often, some artworks may be positioned low or high, requiring the viewer to bend down or stretch. An example of such a practice is the Iris Clert Gallery, in which artists like Yves Klein participated in the famous "The Void" exhibition. In this exhibition, Yves Klein, in collaboration with the gallery, invited a large number of visitors to an empty exhibition space, leaving many unanswered questions for the viewers, prompting them to give their own interpretation of the exhibition.
Every exhibition has its own unique goals and messages. How do you proceed in translating abstract concepts or artistic visions into specific and accessible experiences for visitors, especially when dealing with complex or abstract artworks?
Each artwork carries within it all the characteristics ready to be explored. From the moment the artist creates the work, the expressive outcome depends on the viewer's gaze. Clearly, the boundaries of art have opened up, and new practices often appear incomprehensible to the viewer. However, I believe all that is needed is faith in the internal critique that each of us can exercise through extensive and detailed observation. A work of conceptual art already contains all the necessary elements for understanding within it. Each material has its own conceptual characteristics. For example, a garbage bag or a plastic element narrates something about the mundane and the ephemeral, while a material like wood speaks about nature and construction, and iron refers to industry, and so on. As for abstract art, all it takes is to observe the artist's gesture, the color palette to begin to feel the depth of the work. If we immerse ourselves in the viewing of art, gradually the conceptual framework will be much closer to us.
Of course, this approach is not self-evident, which is why I often conduct guided tours around the artwork, trying to provide both the context and the way to look actively.
It's worth mentioning that the discussion surrounding active viewing started in the philosophy of aesthetics as early as the 18th century and continues to this day. Another classic example is J. Kosuth's work "One and Three Chairs." The work consists of a simple chair, a photograph of the chair at its actual size, and the dictionary definition of a chair. This work initially seems incomprehensible and utopian, but it relates to art itself. It questions what art is and the role of representation or imitation in art when technological means have evolved to provide us with direct and accurate imitations of reality. It then refers to Plato's ontological scale where imitation comes Third from the absolute truth. I explain that according to Plato, our existing world is an imitation of the world of Ideas, and art is an imitation of our world. Thus, in Plato's scale, art comes Third from absolute truth. In this way, J. Kosuth uses a seemingly complex idea with implications in philosophy and aesthetics to call on all viewers and artists to move away from representational techniques of imitation and discover the value of a deeper concept or idea, philosophical questions, and art itself, which is drawn from everyday life. The existence of photography, after all, liberated visual art from the bonds of absolute imitation and handed over the baton to the expression of deeper concepts from our emotional or existing world.
What is, for you, the most demanding part of setting up an exhibition?
Curating is an active and dynamic endeavor. Each time, the challenges vary, involving collaboration with the artist, the artwork itself, or the presentation space. To make something work, it requires an active eye and concentration. The challenges presented each time are completely different and relate to the diversity of the artwork. However, the most difficult part concerns the installation of the exhibition. That is, finding the right space for each artwork with the aim of allowing it to be showcased as effectively as possible.
Photo's copyrights belong to Niovi Kritikou