Yesterday, the Art Gallery of Ontario posted “Designing a home fit for a monster” on their ‘Art Matters’ Blog. It is a teaser for the long-awaited opening of “Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters” and it got me thinking again about a favorite topic: exhibition design.
Prior to studying interior design, I worked for several years in contemporary art galleries and was closely involved with exhibition design and staging. Plus, I have always been a fan of house museums. My idea of candy is some combination of the two – for instance, an exhibit that re-creates a designer’s private creative place and prompts me to think about creativity and spatial occupation. During a recent trip to Japan I visited the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. One of the permanent displays in this museum mocks-up an animation studio in a series of rooms. The animator’s (Hayao Miyazaki) workspace features drawing supplies, collections of evocative objects, and countless watercolours pinned to the walls to give a sense of Studio Ghibli’s prolific envisioning of a world full of wonder. It was easy to see how this creative imagination produced such films as “Spirited Away”, “My Neighbour Totoro”, and “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.
Working in a very different genre, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro similarly has a prolific output that explores a particular creative vision. I’m looking forward to learning more about his creative inspiration by engaging in that particular kind of spatial experience provided by a museum installation.
The ‘Art Matters’ Blog post shares a short interview with Katy Chey, the lead exhibition designer of the AGO’s installation. It references the design brief for this exhibition (to turn “the entire Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion gallery space into the otherworldly, gothic home called Bleak House – a re-creation of del Toro’s famed residence in Los Angeles”). It also characterises the job of the exhibition designer (to “develop, prepare and test design ideas for an exhibit”) and draws attention to the tools often used in the design process (a re-configurable 3D model). It even shares interesting images of Chey’s working model of the exhibition layout.
Sadly, the unnamed interviewer does not press Chey for more of an idea-based investigation of the exhibition’s design. The condensed treatment may have been to avoid any ‘spoilers’ in advance of the show’s opening. Or, it could have been a tacit acknowledgement of the many design leadership moves that were already established by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), this touring exhibit’s originating institution. In both the LACMA installation and the recent venue at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), for example, a similar signature red-purple and black colour scheme is used to create a moody, Victorian-inspired interior experience. These colours are also evident in the AGO’s 3-D models. Further discussion of the LACMA installation was published last year on the LACMA’s Blog. India Mandelkern’s interview with Martin Sztyk, LACMA’s exhibition designer, explored themes such as the cabinet of curiosity writ large, the challenge of evoking the domestic interior scale in an exhibition needing to accommodate crowds, and the soundtrack commissioned to animate a multi-sensory experience of the space.
We will need to wait until the AGO exhibit opens on September 30th to discuss Toronto’s exhibition design results in particular. Temporary structure, lighting, display furniture and signage will have been combined to create pathways that have nothing to do with the pre-existing architectural space. The visitors’ movement through carefully staged interior spaces will support a sequence of narratives about the collected objects and the filmmaker’s vision. When I make my visit, I will be taking notes about design. The aspects that I want to consider are:
Planning: How is the exhibition organized? What are the characteristics of the layout of pathways through the exhibition space? Are there a series of ‘rooms’ and ‘views’? How has the designer differentiated between spaces of welcome (start) and conclusion (finish), movement and rest? Is it successful? Why?
Lighting & Sound: How does lighting support visual tasks of reading and observation? How does lighting support spatial effects, create spectacle, or establish narrative emphasis? Is there adequate consideration of the visitor’s visual comfort in the form of ambient light? Is the lighting inventive or intrusive? How have the visitors’ other senses been activated to simulate the multi-sensorial experience of film?
Spatial Quality: How does the temporary structure prompt a spatial experience separate from an overt display of the collected objects?
Signage/Graphics: What roles do still and moving graphics play in the viewing experience? Are they over-emphasized or are they downplayed?
Watch this space in a few weeks for my follow-up review about how exhibition design influenced my overall experience of “Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters.” It will be my (Halloween) candy.
(NOTE- I have borrowed all images for this post from other sources, each carefully credited. No photos allowed in museums!)