Art Must Hang!—Must Art Hang? by Matthew Bowman Essay

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Art Must Hang!—Must Art Hang? by Matthew Bowman

The title of today’s lecture, “Art Must Hang!” playfully refers to the importance of exhibitions and other methods of displaying your works. Indeed, although the artwork might be created in the studio space, it might be argued that it never fully succeeds as an artwork until it has been exhibited somewhere or otherwise displayed for the benefit of the public. In that respect, the exhibition has a special significance in relation to the artwork and, to a certain extent, it might be argued that the history of art is thus the history of art exhibitions.The purpose of today’s lecture, therefore, is to examine the relationship between art and exhibition in a broad sense and investigate the centrality of the spaces that artworks are shown within. Typically, the gallery or museum seems like the natural home or destination of artworks; however, it’s worth remarking that this was not always the case. Indeed, the gallery or museum is an invention that is historically relatively recent. Moreover, it has become increasingly evident since the late 1960s that the gallery is not the only place where art can be displayed, with artists exploring alternative formats and locations in order to reimagine how artworks can be presented. In that case, the statement-title “Art Must Hang!” should also be rethought in the questioning mode of “Must Art Hang?” Today’s lecture, then, is largely about exhibitions, what they are and how the come together. All of us (I hope!) have visited exhibitions and make such visits a routine activity connected with our core practice. Exhibitions present us with an array of objects which have been arranged in a space in generally a non-random manner. Within the artworld, exhibitions basically take the form of solo or group exhibitions. The former is dedicated to the work of a single artist, whether it be new works or retrospectives encompassing much of the artist’s career, while the latter is an exhibition featuring several artists and what gives the exhibition an internal coherence is some overarching concept or commonality which links the artists together. In this way, exhibitions become a major part of how artists develop their reputation, sell works, and obtain further exhibitions. While a single artwork can be shown over its lifetime at numerous exhibitions, we should not conclude from this that exhibitions are extrinsic to artworks; on the contrary, each exhibition may have have a determinative effect upon the artwork, thereby not only allowing us to see the artwork but also changing how we see the artwork. A good exhibition might not only tell us something essential about the artwork by allowing its meaning to come through, but might also subtly alter or deepen that meaning. This is not something, I think, that only applies to art insofar as the idea of the exhibition could be expanded. In fashion, for example, the catwalk or runway has become the hotspot for the display of new collections since the earlier part of the twentieth century. How artworks have been displayed to the public has a long history, and the different methods that have been used for display suggest the varying social contexts that the artwork has been made in. Even if we turn our attention to the cave paintings produced by our ancestors some 28,000 years ago, we note how the vertical space of the wall seems to have struck them as a natural home for their works. Fast-forwarding in time, Renaissance fresco paintings were placed on the walls of churches and villas. In these cases, however, these works are permanently affixed to the wall, occasionally playing with their architectural surroundings, and their significance is in some measure determined by that location. Other types of artworks and craft design were, of course, more portable, with sculptures, for example, being placed atop of pedestals. Either way, however, the display of these artworks was not to emphasize their aesthetic