Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Picture of an Exhibition

This week, I'm turning my gaze from the singular to the entirety, in attempting a design scheme for the prototype First Person Museum. The museum will display a total of 19 objects chosen for their personal significance to their owners, Catalina's pan being but one of them.

The step-by-step path I'm following derives from interpretative planner Alice Parman's instructions in her article, "Exhibit Makeovers: Do-It-Yourself Exhibit Planning," published in 2010 by the American Association for State and Local History. The six main steps are:
  • crafting a mission statement, takeaway messages and storyline
  • organizing the storyline into "chapters"
  • inventorying content and nailing down facts
  • engaging visitors
  • planning the look and feel, the visuals, of the exhibit
  • installation.
I have a concept plan. It's nowhere near architectural scale and leaves a lot, a whole lot, to the imagination, thanks to my limited facility and patience with Google's sketching tools. Here it is.

Now, I'll fill in the dots.

The mission of First Person is to create a people's museum, investing ordinary objects with new meaning through their personal associations.The exhibit incorporates this mission on a visual, design, and ultimately, symbolic level, taking as its theme the common, the green center at the heart of New England villages and their tradition of town-meeting democracy. The message, then, is about common ground, what unites us, and the commonality of ordinary things and ordinary people. Conversely, there is also a shadow side to this pastoral myth, known as the tragedy of the commons, where mutual ownership leads to neglect, overuse and destruction, because when everyone's responsible, sometimes no one is. 

The square area in the center of the diagram is the common, showcasing multimedia to engage the visitor. A revolving kiosk, or bandstand, with pictures of the object owners, their Philadelphia-area neighborhoods and perhaps their home countries, is on the left. To the right are three park benches where viewers can sit and watch a documentary film on the arced screen in front, and a "Welcom to First Person" sign with general information about the museum and the exhibit. The soft background music is Aaron Copland's  "Fanfare for the Common Man." 

The surrounding exhibit space is demarcated in minimalist fashion by raw wood beams connected to outline walls and gabled roofs, creating the impression of rowhouses ringing the common. The interior is a continuous corridor through the six units, each unit set off as a "room" through the use of solid color or wallpaper on the front and back walls. Passage through the exhibit space, the "chapters" of the story, would be leisurely and unimpeded, allowing visitors to explore at their own pace and meander back and forth.

I've adopted the concept of First Person's installation designer to array the objects in domestic settings representing rooms in a house, because I find it a good way to group and provide context for seemingly disparate objects. Rooms include a child's bedroom (baby clothes, dolls, stuffed animals), kitchen (the pan), den (map, birth certificate, passport, fishing license, pen), woman's bedroom (dress, shawl, pendant, sock), formal dining room (sugar bowl, gravy boat), man's bedroom (boxer shorts, t-shirt, ring). The object's story, historic description and a picture of the owner are posted prominently near each item. Some of the clothing could be modeled by stylized mannequins of various hues. A living room, furnished with comfortable settees, is set aside for visitors to record or write their reactions.

In light of  museum consultant Ken Yellis' piece in praise of edginess ("Fred Wilson, PTSD, and Me: Reflections on the History Wars"), I've also toyed with the idea of deconstructing the objects and placing them randomly in combination or at odd angles  in rooms in which they wouldn't typically be found. For example, the fishing license in the kitchen.  Thoughts, anyone?

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