Exhibition History

In this blog post I will explore the history of the exhibition and how the context of the space can influence the meaning. As we draw closer to the final degree show, it is important to understand the historical context behind exhibitions and how this can influence and affect the decisions being made in the final exhibition.


Artwork was displayed in Palaces, whilst the aristocracy inhabited them. Before photography, to have a painting or even in the early stages of photography, to have a photograph displayed in ones home was a display of wealth, and political power. In the later stages of the 20th century, these places, such as the Louvre and Hermitage, were converted into museums and artefacts themselves. The artwork in these spaces, are often large scale and framed to show how grand a spectacle they are.


The church is also a place that is used in contemporary and ancient times to display artwork. Although primarily a place of worship, the display of work in the ancient times in particular, was a display of power and authoritarianism. The work in these spaces (much like in the Vatican) holds spiritual power and often deals with ideologies of the tiers of life. This tradition has been prominent in the Catholic culture. However, moving into the contemporary era, the spaces are now being showcased for it’s art, with the religious element following closely. Work from the time and new works are now placed in the space, giving it an array of meaning.

Cabinets and Curiosities

Cabinets and Curiosities held no formal or authoritarian status, other than over that of whom the photographs were made of. The artwork and photographs were made to intrigue, mock and educate the people on widely unseen issues. The work was often printed small scale, as it was to be transported around the streets in a cart. The work in the carts followed no set methodology, as it was based on the arbitrary nature of the viewers. The topics of the displays often changed; but were mostly taxidermies of tropical animals, specimens of unusual life forms and things that were of scientific and aesthetic research. Although this side was harmless, some people did fall subject to the judging gaze, especially those who were considered ‘freaks’ and performed in travelling circuses.


The word museum is derived from multiple languages; in Latin it means “library or study”, in Greek it means palace of study, library, museum school of art and poetry” and “a seat or shrine of muses”. This ideology of learning associated with the founding of the museum formed the grounding for their purpose. Artefacts and artwork were beginning to be shown before the 16th century in British Libraries. This coupling of the physical object and the written word was interesting, showing that it can aid learning. In the 17th century, there was no real formal organisation of the objects, as it was considered a more formal collection of curiosities. In the 19th and 20th century, the building was now more accessible to the wider public, and housed materials of an educational and cultural purpose. In the contemporary era, there is now less emphasis on the space/building which work is displayed in; more so how the work is best curated.


Moving into the contemporary era, the gallery is a space whereby artwork and photography is shown. Galleries are either stand on their own, or work in partnership with a museum/other institution. They work in one of two ways; either being publically owned and therefore working as a non profit organisation, or they are privately owned and display work purely for financial gain. Some galleries, especially those who are run by artist collectives, work mostly in the non-profit sector. Where as those working and displaying in vanity galleries, are in that area for financial gain.

Contemporary Galleries

Contemporary galleries have similar priorities much like the original galleries. However, the space is less important in some instances, where as the space is very conservative and conventional in others. The contemporary gallery is still classed as something that is highly authoritarian, as the showcase is carefully curated in order to control the way the work is seen. Because of this, the contemporary gallery can be considered something that is highly self-conscious, often dealing with debates surrounding aesthetics, social context, economics and political dimensions.

Other Areas of Display

In today’s age, art and photography can be displayed and exhibited in most places. As technology and printing has advanced, we can now display work in retail environments, billboards, through community projects, in converted buildings and many more.


As the topic of my Final Major Project is disability, the exhibiting of my photography will be far from conventional. As the disabled body has been largely rejected in the conventional portrait, the way in which I display the work will be breaking conventions. The disabled body is something that has just started to enter social media, advertising and gallery spaces, however, their representation still needs improved. This is something that will be explored in future blog posts.

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