An excerpt from my Museum Studies Foundations term paper:
I would like to propose a revolutionary exhibition that carries all of these risky principles in hopes that museum exhibition planners and curators will take these suggestions into consideration and implement them to future exhibitions as they deem appropriate. Through my visits to various art museums around the world, I have found that it is the unconventionally designed exhibitions that turn out to be the most compelling. It is also fair to state that the style represented is usually contemporary art. Most of these exhibitions have been witnessed outside the United States, which indicates the methodology of display in our country. It seems the United States is too archaic in our methods of presentation, afraid to cross boundaries and offend people. How will we ever grow, as an artistic community, if we don’t step outside of the box and create some sort of controversy?
For this mock exhibition, I have chosen to display religious subject matter, something that is considered controversial in our society, yet difficult to ignore. The goal of this exhibition is to explore the function of art in a religious setting, foster a diverse artistic response and encourage people to look at the harmony of these two separate entities in an unconventional dichotomy. There is something to gain from these seemingly different and diverse belief systems. I would like to select five contemporary artists from diverse backgrounds of every extreme (age, race, sexual orientation, gender, artistic background, creed, etc.) to collaborate and create an exhibition responding creatively function of art in a religious setting. These artists range from independent artists with minimum experience in the art world to artists who have multiple roles in their respective fields. I want every major culture and ethnic group of America to be represented here in this exhibition, as much as possible. Therefore, the five artists selected are the following:
*Shirin Neshat (contemporary photographer/artist, Iranian, female)
*Jessica Brand (independent graphic designer/icon painter, Caucasian, American, female)
*Lien Troung (contemporary Vietnamese-American artist, female)
*Amalia Mesa-Bains (contemporary Chicana artist/curator/scholar/writer, female)
*Glen Ligon (contemporary African-American artist, gay, male)
These individuals were chosen because of their unique backgrounds, roles in the contemporary art scene of their respective cultures/countries and artistic interests. The majority of these artists are part of the two most under represented groups of our society: women and non-Caucasians. The artists will then study the religious art in the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian (Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic) traditions, visit churches, mosques and temples, observe the practice of religion there, learn as much as possible and then, be commissioned to visually express their thoughts and feelings towards these various experiences. Symbolism, color, pattern, narrative and meditation will be the main focuses of this exhibition. The result will definitely be a series of radically different, moving, and highly original – in both concept and execution – works in a variety of mediums. Contemporary methods of visual communication, such as photography, video/slideshow projection and music will be inserted throughout this exhibition.
I want the exhibition to be spread around a major art museum in America with a diverse collection of art from ancient to contemporary (such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City), catering to an eclectic mix of people from all corners of the globe. For example, if artist Jessica Brand chooses to emulate the detailed style of Islamic style art for itsrichness in color and pattern, she might do a series of Madonna and Child icons in that specific style. Those works will then be hung in the medieval icons section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, juxtaposed side-by-side with other icons of the same subject matter, to be compared and contrasted. Since the works will be hidden, the visitors will be sent on a scavenger hunt to find and interact with these pieces. This methodology will also enable visitors to see how the artists’ creations communicate with other works of art around them, transforming the entire museum into a dynamic whole. Furthermore, they will also be encouraged to decoding the dialogue between the objects and search for new meanings suggested by their cohabitation. This will then create an atmosphere of learning, where new and old objects converse, side by side. Many times, people learn the best when they are taken out of their comfort zones, outside the “white cube” norm of art museums and forced to think outside of conventional ideas. As a result, visitors will be invited to respond instinctively to these works, appropriately placed in the galleries of other works of art. I would like to make it clear, that visitors will not be told where the works are located (to avoid the “greatest hits” tour idea of any major art museum), but will be told how many objects are in the exhibition so that they know when to stop. Minimal educational information will be given at the beginning of the exhibition, as it is important for visitors to see these works with a fresh perspective.
Finally, I want there to be one room dedicated to the exhibition, where no artwork hangs. I want this place to be quiet, tranquil and where people are invited to be free to express their thoughts and feelings about the exhibition through dance, spoken word, conversation, singing, praying, or whatever they deem appropriate. Think of it as a performance piece room where experimental art on all levels take place. A short description of the room’s purpose and mission statement will be indicated at the entrance, in order to avoid confusion. Visitors will be told when buying tickets for the exhibition where this room is so that they can go there to reflect on their experience upon completion of their visit. The room will be large and circular (representing eternity and the unity of all humankind), minimal yet artistic, painted in vibrant, colorful hues. The atmosphere will be dim and meditative, lit with a row of scented lavender candles lining the perimeter of the room and soft music of a mixed spiritual nature playing in the background (i.e. “Amazing Grace” sung in a traditional Hindu chanting style of music). A slideshow of photographs, old and contemporary, will be shown in a separate space, depicting human interaction with divinity on all levels. This will be projected on a large wall, making it hard for people to ignore. Some examples might include scenes from weddings and funerals of the world’s major religions, capturing the joys and sorrows of human existence, and brief interviews of people (spoken in their native tongues, left un-translated) expressing their reason for the incorporation of some type of faith practice in their lives. There will be quotes printed on the walls, and changed weekly. These are quotes written by visitors, responding to their exhibition in order to enact freshness and promote new dialogue surrounding this show. Visitors will also be able to sign the guestbook here and submit quotes to be mounted on the wall. Ritual will inevitably take place here. This exhibition will be accompanied by a full-length, illustrated catalogue including a discussion on the integration of art and religion over the course of the world’s history, a brief history of each major world religion (their similarities and differences to one another) and a deeper look into parallel narratives, similar figures, icons and deities with similar symbolic objects. There will be no gift shop or commercialization of this exhibition, as this takes away from the true meaning and spirit behind this exhibition. However, there will be a website dedicated to this exhibition, with a myriad of educational resources and the visitors will be encouraged to buy the catalogue online or at the actual museum’s gift shop. The point to be proven is that we are all human beings, sharing the same blood of creation. This exhibition should not denote which “path” is the right one to embark on, but that we all have unique beliefs, cultures and artistic styles and can/should learn from each other. “Art is a universal language and can portray a powerful message.” There is something to gain from each of these artistic styles, implemented by the major religions of the world.
I believe that exhibiting art of this nature will stimulate reactions of all sorts, from people all over our melting-pot nation: both positive and negative. This is inevitable, but in turn can save the art world from thereby settling for mediocrity. A successful exhibition is one that promotes any mode of discussion and debate.
Otherwise, why display art in today’s society?