The idea occurred to me when leafing through the pages of an old issue of men’s magasine Esquire. Title : The best art exhibition name ever.
"2001 : A space argument ; an epic exploration of disagreement and incompetence"
Very Catch 22-esque isn't it ? Reminds me of another favoured exhibiton name somewhere online
"The Souls of Texans Are in Jeopardy In Ways Not Common to Other Men"
Obviously when these exhibition are held respectively at the most excellent Maverick Gallery and the – unfortunately- unknown to me Houston based GGallery, it is way easier to dwell on deliciously quirky and funky urban pop cultures references. But I do work mostly for institutions that can't really explore the boundaries of second degree and inside jokes. So I tend to focus more on more institutional exhibition names.
Here is a selection of my fave names for 2010, it is highly subjective and also based on the fact I actually saw most of these exhbitions and thought the title – the promise- was matched by a thought provoking content.
Rehab, l'art de refaire (the art of remaking) at the Espace Fondtion EDF in Paris and High Society at the Wellcome Collection, London, or how to successfully use a popular and fashionable motif, namely "drugs gone fashionable". Reminiscent of Amy Winehouse most famous hit single, "Rehab" explored art made from garbage or old materials on both an artistic and eco-conscious angle. No wonder the exhibition poster is all about its title. Walking in the metro, one would check it out no matter what.
Using a pun, "High Society" at the still quite young Wellcome Collection that explores the ties between medicine and art through fun and inventive ways, explores how addictive substances pervade societies, from the most common to the most extreme ones. Playful and socially-driven, this title is also what the Wellcome is about. Undoubtedly a clever way of advertising a young venue alongside with a temporary exhibition. You should also check out online the exhibition's online resources, truly educational and fun, as well as the Wellcome's website that has all sorts of videos you were never looking for, but that will make you come back for more. On High Society, you will find a quizz on drugs, some selected material and an excellent biography among other things that give balanced and discussion-oriented account of the somewaht difficult if popular topic for (almost) all ages. A success.
Shadow catchers : Camera-less Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and The Glasgow Boys : Pioneering Painters at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. I was not going to see these exhibitions, both minor at the V&A and Royal Academy, but then their title caught my attention. Why is that ? I recently was able to realise that it was because they engaged the selection of artists presented as an active, alternative and pioneering group, as in people who dare exploring uncharted waters. Note how the poetry and lightness of the phrase « Shadow catchers » conveys a sense of image and « the Glasgow boys » conveys a sense of place which grounds lesser known artists….even if it is in the shadows.
Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice at the Louvre, Paris : This is a brilliant title in many ways. It is always tricky to come up with an original and catchy title for a blockbuster exhibition. Here we are given 3 classic painters yet tinted by a darker shade : more than artists, who are this three men, how did their painting interact but also how did their character influence their carreers. A fantastic way to revive the classics with a fresh angle. Also note the clever use of the whodunnit-like motif of Venice, the city of mysteries. Along the same lines, see also The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters, at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, another brilliant focus on the exploration of a painting myth through his personal life. Note how the presence of an adjective -"real"- changes everything. I kept calling Gauguin : Maker of Myth at the Tate Modern, London, simply « the Gauguin exhibition » all the way, although focus was also on reassessing the character of an artist and how he was somewhat falsely mythified by history and popular perception. Also see extremely successful Monet 1840-1926 at the Grand Palais, Paris, simply coined "the Monet Exhibition" by almost all Parisians. The baseline and the title simply disappeared in the process, which is a shame to me as they not only matter but are part of the exhibiting institution's brand and distinctive voice.
The added value for exhibitions like these that are going to sell anyway is definitely on the public's side. Audiences are likely to appreciate being engaged in a process where they are asked to re-consider and re-assess without being delivered a content that remains seemingly undiscussed. For some of these names, almost endless viral exploitations would have been possible…but enough said. In a time of audiences becoming more and more active in bringing content, there would be lessons to be learnt from institutions that have engaged for a long time in titles and concepts that give the public a role not only as a viewer, but as an actor. Scientific museums are among these, as they have had to deal with younger audiences and how to address them in a stimulating way. The current major exhibition at the Museum of Natural History, Toulouse is named : Préhistoire, l'Enquête ("Prehistory: an Investigation") and has been extended online via the "Paroles de squelettes" (Skeletons speak) Facebook profile and other new media resources. Hopefully, 2011 is even more about distinctive voices and audiences collaboration. Let's finish with the Kunsthalle Wien's timely past exhibition : 1989: End of History or Beginning of the Future?
A sign that exhibition names can display the ambition of questioning the world and its representations. Let's hope for an exhibition new annus mirabilis and exhibition names that strike one's imagination and intellect and make you want to come and visit.
What about you? What were your favourite exhibition names in 2010 and why?