What Is… an Exhibition?

The New Brunswick Museum invites the public to explore its brand-new exhibition, entitled “What Is… an Exhibition?” This is the first of a new series of exhibition which will focus on the various professionals who work in the museum; and we start with the “exhibition”.

Lots of people dream of creating exhibitions, but few of them realize how much knowledge and skill go into the display they see. Dominique Gélinas, Head, Exhibitions & Visitor Experience, explains, “We often see only what the curator and the exhibition director have showcased, but the real exhibition team includes at least 9 professional groups!” Among them are the project coordinator, the curator, the collections manager, the exhibit technician, the designer, the communications officer, the development officer, and the interpreters.

The first part of the exhibition shows how projects such as exhibitions are managed. “It’s a real symphony; each performer plays at the right time and the orchestra works interdependently,” adds Ms. Gélinas. “And the project manager is the conductor who keeps the tempo!”

It takes time to get everything ready to be shown in a gallery. A project can take between six months and two years, depending on the number of artefacts, the complexity of the design, and the partnerships.

In the next part, visitors learn about deterioration and design factors. Developing an exhibition means maintaining a fine balance between preserving artefacts and making them accessible to visitors, that is, giving people an opportunity to look at them, read information about them, and understand the purpose behind the presentation of objects and ideas.

Viewers will learn about the five main factors that lead to deterioration and that museum professionals need to consider: light, handling, temperature and humidity, biological factors (insects, rodents), and chemical factors (pollutants, choice of materials). Visitors will be invited to touch objects displayed at different stations and can see how damage accumulates during the weeks they are on display. This will explain the reason behind instructions not to touch objects or eat or drink at an exhibition.

Finally, in the last part of the exhibition, we learn how design guides the visitor’s gaze: from models and surfaces to the influence of framing on the image, the writing style, and the height at which the artwork is hung on the wall. Everything is thought out ergonomically as well as aesthetically. In summary, there is a lot to consider in the visual design and construction of an exhibition. The primary interest of museums today is to attract visitors and satisfy their appetite; as a result, many studies focusing on museum visitors have been conducted over the last three decades.

“What Is… an Exhibition?“ is an interactive and evolving project. As the weeks go by, visitors will see how unprotected objects deteriorate. They will also be able to play simulations to recreate the history of their own exhibition by choosing different objects (as though playing a board game) or examine an object the way a curator would.

This exhibition will be of interest to people of all ages and backgrounds. It illustrates the fact that a museum needs different kinds of people, from the most manual to the most intellectual, to carry out this kind of project.

The New Brunswick Museum presents “What Is… an Exhibition?“ until May 23, 2020. Watch out for programs and activities that will be designed for different audiences in conjunction with this exhibition.