How do we present art? And how do we look at it, as museum visitors? Most of us immediately focus our attention on the artwork itself, unaware that how we encounter it has been carefully staged by a designer. In contrast, Art on Display 1949-69 focuses less on the artworks themselves, and more on the way they are presented. The exhibition brings together some of the most progressive post-war exhibition designs by architects in the form of 1:1 reconstructions: a unique opportunity to experience and compare these radical architectural approaches in person. It features displays by Carlo Scarpa, Franco Albini and Franca Helg, Lina Bo Bardi, Aldo van Eyck, and Alison and Peter Smithson. The exhibition was designed by architect Jo Taillieu.
Art on Display 1949-69 came about thanks to an invitation from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon to develop the exhibition together. It marks the 50th anniversary of the Gulbenkian Museum, which was initiated in 1949 and opened its doors two decades later (1949-69). From a shared interest in the role of the architect in the museum and the design of exhibitions, the Gulbenkian Museum’s director Penelope Curtis approached Dirk van den Heuvel, head of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre and an expert on the work of Aldo van Eyck and the Smithsons, and Guus Beumer, general and artistic director of Het Nieuwe Instituut. The exhibition in Rotterdam, in contrast to the one in Lisbon, does not take place against the background of the permanent display of a collection, but is part of a multi-year programme about 1:1 reconstructions. Previous exhibitions include 1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf and 1:1 Period Rooms. The Rotterdam exhibition was designed by architect Jo Taillieu.
The dozens of paintings and sculptures displayed in the reconstructions are from the collections of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. Pieces from these collections have never been shown in the Netherlands before. Exhibits include 18th- and 19th- century works from the private collection of the British-Armenian businessman and philanthropist Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, and works by modern Portuguese and British artists, including Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Terry Frost and John Hoyland, from the Modern Collection.
Art on Display in Lisbon
The exhibition Art on Display 1949-69 previously took place in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, from November 2019 to March 2020. This impression of the set-up is based on the photography of Pedro Pina.
The artworks shown in the reconstructions are from the collections of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. Paintings and sculptures from the Founder’s Collection and the Modern Collection have been used to enhance the 1:1 reconstructions and highlight their various scenographic qualities. Works from the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum collections have never been shown in the Netherlands before. Brought together by British-Armenian businessman and philanthropist Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, the Founder’s Collection is one of the most renowned private collections in the world. It covers a wide selection of works from antiquity to the Renaissance and Baroque, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, as well as Asian art. The Modern Collection is considered to be the most complete collection of modern and contemporary Portuguese art in the world.
Photo: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Islamic East art gallery, 1970. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum archive. Photo: Mário de Oliveira.
Petra Lunenburg has made a series of drawings inspired by Art on Display which aim to capture the atmosphere of the various exhibition fragments and make tangible the encounters with artworks that were so carefully staged by the architects.
From the archives: exhibition designs by architects
The exhibition Art on Display 1949-69 provided the occasion to research architects’ exhibition designs in the National Collection for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning. This selection – featuring no museum exteriors and not restricted to architectural exhibitions – illustrates how interventions by the architect determine how objects are presented to the visitor. With designs b Gerrit Rietveld, Hein Salomonson, Nel Verschuuren, J.J.P. Oud en Wim Quist.
Het Nieuwe Instituut
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Since it was established in 2013, Het Nieuwe Instituut has experimented with exhibition formats that go beyond mere presentation to pose questions and raise issues. Art on Display 1949-69 is part of a series of exhibitions consisting of 1:1 models that focus on the specific qualities of the interior at the intersection of architecture and design. With his installation 1:1 Period Rooms (2015), the Greek architect and artist Andreas Angelidakis presented a narrative about the significance of the museum space in the history of displaying objects. He did this by creating five spaces, each representing part of an imaginary dialogue between a period room and the white cube.
The exhibition 1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf (2013) consisted of six three-dimensional sets made for the photographer Erwin Olaf by set designer Floris Vos. Each of these sets created a world that existed only for a photograph, solely to bring a character to life. Framing an image directs the actor’s and viewer’s gaze. Most recently, Het Nieuwe Instituut presented an installation by members of the film collective, The Ummah Chroma. They created a 1:1 set inspired by their film As Told to G / D Thyself, in which visitors are invited to become performers in a ritualistic space. It raises the question of whether these 1:1 models belong to the world of architecture or design, or, as projections of a dreamed inner world, to the domain of art.
1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf & Bekleidung
1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf and the parallel exhibition Bekleidung (17 November 2013 t/m 30 March 2014) are the first part of a triptych that Het Nieuwe Instituut is devoting to the interior. This part introduces visitors to two of the most original ideas on the culture of the interior: the idea of the interior as an expression of the individual, and the interior as the starting point of architecture. Both ideas go back to nineteenth-century Romanticism and have lost none of their topicality today.
Fashion Curating - Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond
Interview with Guus Beumer, director of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, by Philipp Teufel for New Exhibition Design 03. "Even today, many curators still love the authority of the white cube and prefer yet another variation on it. Interestingly enough, it was the visual arts – not design and architecture – that started to invite us as exhibition makers/curators, exactly because the white cube was more and more recognized as a problematic and even authoritarian tool."
1:1 Period Rooms
Midway through the past century the historically appointed period room in many museums made way for the ‘white cube’. Modern art needed neutral, white exhibition walls instead of historically decorated rooms. From 1 February to 6 April 2015 Het Nieuwe Instituut is taking the period room as the basis for a programme devoted to exhibition models. For 1:1 Period Rooms, the Greek architect and artist Andreas Angelidakis designs an installation and draws on period rooms held in the collection at the Amsterdam Museum, which have not been presented to the public since the 1970s.
A 1:1 transcription
Short essay by Gert Staal about Art on Display 1949-69 as a 1:1 exhibition model. "The curators and architects made a careful study of the original locations, the floor plans, the spatial organisation, the placement of the artworks and the materialisation of the former exhibition’s architecture. Not to reproduce them unquestioningly, but to subject them – in Jo Taillieu’s words – to ‘a transcription’."
Art on Display 1949-69 is part of the Museology programme of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre, which initiates and conducts research projects in the field of architecture and urban planning that generate exhibitions, publications and debates related to the programme of Het Nieuwe Instituut and the research programme of the Faculty of Architecture at Delft University of Technology. With Art on Display 1949-69, the Jaap Bakema Study Centre gives direction to the debate by exploring the broader cultural context of exhibition design. The exhibition is accompanied by an events programme, including a masterclass for the postgraduate programme The Berlage with Barry Bergdoll, architectural historian and curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The combination of archival research and public presentation naturally leads to explorations of, and reflections on, questions of museology. Public presentation can assume all kind of formats, but within museological practice the exhibition counts as the most important vehicle for exhibiting historical material to a wide audience. But what sort of knowledge production is constituted by architectural exhibitions? The Jaap Bakema Study Centre probes these questions in various settings, often in collaboration with international partners.
Architectures on Display by Barry Bergdoll
From 4 to 15 May 2020, renowned architectural historian Barry Bergdoll led the theory master class of The Berlage, entitled Architectures on Display: On the History and Contemporary Approaches to Exhibiting Architecture. This master class is organised in collaboration with Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Jaap Bakema Study Centre on the occasion of the upcoming exhibition Art on Display 1949–69.