Fieldwork: Extending the Study of the Exhibition Across Geographies


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Catalina L Imizcoz

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Es editora en Phaidon Press. Magister en Estudios de Exposiciones, Central Saint Martins School of Art, UAL, Londres. Publicó artículos sobre la historia de las exposiciones y sobre la revista ramona.

Fecha de Recepción: 14 de diciembre de 2016

Fecha de Aceptación: 17 de abril de 2017

Esta obra está bajo una Licencia Creative Commons Atribución-NoComercial-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional.

> como citar este artículo

Catalina L Imizcoz; «Fieldwork: Extending the Study of the Exhibition Across Geographies». En Caiana. Revista de Historia del Arte y Cultura Visual del Centro Argentino de Investigadores de Arte (CAIA). N° 10 | Año 2017 en línea desde el 4 julio 2012.

> resumen

El presente artículo es la primera revisión literaria del naciente campo de los estudios de exposiciones. Una extensa investigación de la bibliografía que conforma la base del campo de estudios se presenta aquí en una tipología. Seis categorías de publicaciones – lineales, tangenciales, sostenedoras, concentradas, alternativas y experimentales – sirven de estructura para estudiar e interrogar los métodos y metodologías del campo. Se cuestionan las bases sobre las que este nuevo campo de investigación se asienta para crecer académicamente y se argumenta a favor de la construcción de historias de exposiciones que sean críticas, geográficamente extensas y anti-canónicas.

Palabras clave: xhibición, historias, geografía, tipología, GEME

> abstract

The nascent field of exhibition studies should be propelled by the conviction that writing histories of exhibitions is a critical activity – as opposed to an archaeological one. Its weightiness as a new field of research lies with this possibility: that art historians and researchers can write histories of art that are geographically extensive and revisit canons from a refreshed perspective. In this article, a collection of publications form the outline of a typology of exhibition studies literature, identifying six categories of publications that engage with the field in different ways: the linear, the tangential, the supportive, the concentrated, the alternative and the experimental. Overall, it allow s for reflections on exhibition studies’ epistemic basis, that is, the ways knowledge of art exhibitions is amassed and how this knowledge is shaped to become a valid contribution to this field.

Key Words: exhibition, histories, geography, typology, GEME

Fieldwork: Extending the Study of the Exhibition Across Geographies

A Student’s Reading of Exhibition Studies

This research project investigates the nascent field of exhibition studies in its first twenty years of existence by tracing some of the publications that have put the art exhibition at the centre of their analysis, unpacking their specificities and understanding how they contribute to shape the study of exhibitions as a field of research in its own right.

The restriction of the scope of the research to publications is important in as far as it allows for delimitation, an enclosure. It exceeds the reach of this article to try and account for exhibition studies’ other vehicles of development, i.e., exhibitions themselves that address their meta aspects (such as restaged seminal shows), works of art that function in a similar way, or research projects and the installations used to display their results – being as it is, I am sure many volumes, books and journals have escaped my attention.[1]

Other than this practical reason, the choice of this parameter also sprung from an interest in the diverse conventions of time and space that govern exhibitions and publications. Their non-aligned temporalities, that is to say, the fact that exhibitions are intrinsically provisional instantiations and publications are, if not the exact opposite, at least considerably more permanent, is, I believe, a productive relation at the core of exhibition studies. Even if both exhibitions and publications involve the dissemination of work – creating platforms for the audience to encounter it – an exhibition is conceived as an unstable entity whereas a publication is produced to be self-contained and durable. Each then tells a different story, one that is inevitably conditioned by these original parameters. Space-wise, contemporary exhibitions build a narrative where fragmentation and dispersion is inevitable – of course, in each particular case to a different extent – while printed matter most commonly takes us from word to word, line to line, page to page. In short, and in general terms, it could be said that books build linear and self-standing narratives and, conversely, the narratives of exhibitions are inherently discursive and digressing. Publications that focus on the study of exhibitions will therefore be traversed by these oppositions, which influence the way the study of the exhibition is conducted in itself. How can a book communicate these fragmented narratives? To what extent is it important to show the dispersion and fragmentation, rather than synthesising it? This line of thinking has informed my original decision to work with publications that study the exhibition. However, it is not an argument I will actually develop in this article: it will simply underlie the analysis undertaken here (and can hopefully be further developed in future research).

As a postgraduate student in the MRes Exhibition Studies program at Central Saint Martins in London, I had privileged access to both the Anglophone academic version of the field and one of its most energetic driving forces, Afterall Books.[2] This access in turn provided insight into the criteria and foundational statements with which the field was being established as an academic endeavour. For example: by distancing itself from the central figure of the curator and arguing for a broader examination of the multiplicity of agents that convene to produce an exhibition, exhibition studies finds space to argue that it cannot be subsumed under curatorial studies. This example, among others, made me ponder on the benefits and drawbacks of the field’s pursuit of academic solidification. What was lost in this process of delimitation against, for example, curatorial studies?

Another central aspect that my position as a student allowed me to encounter is what I identified as an ambition – or work in progress – of building the field outside of Western-centric canons. Afterall’s series of books ‘Exhibition Histories’ states that in some cases, when selecting a show for study, “the opportunity is taken to illuminate lesser-known exhibitions”.[3] Dr Lucy Steeds, one of the editors of the series, has articulated the exhibition as potentially “activating critical exchanges about art that span the local and worldwide, without reference to centres and peripheries”.[4] Taking into account that exhibition studies as an academic field was born in the context of art’s globalisation after 1989, I consider that this idea could become one of the field’s trailblazing contributions. Coetaneous with the Western art canon’s expansion towards different geographies, exhibition studies could be said to be a ‘global native’: a field that could know no other world configuration than that which spans a variety of geographies.[5]

The use of the term geography is important here. I will speak of geography and geography of thought throughout this text and it is perhaps worth giving some demarcation to this. I will understand geography in a very broad sense, encompassing the political, economic and ideological structures that result from a particular town, city or country’s relative location in the world. In this sense, for example, ‘Western’ is a geography of thought that cannot be exclusively delimitated nor confused with the western hemisphere.

So there is, at least on paper, an ambition of globality. Yet this appeared to me as detached from the actual state of the field that investigates exhibitions; rather, this field has focused on writing the canon of exhibitions that have made Western art history. My primary research began as a kind of literature review, indicating the provenance of books, magazines and journals and foregrounding the locations where histories of exhibitions were being written. Expanding the geographic scope led me to encounter different methodological and methodical approaches; namely, those that were removed from an Anglophone academic version of exhibition studies, and presented refreshing understandings of what could be achieved within the field. These alternative studies of exhibitions instilled further criticisms of the field’s academic entrenchment that is often dependent on fixing the field’s boundaries regardless of the actual value of this mechanism. Validating lax methodologies encouraged the possibility of envisioning the field as a ‘global native’. Isn’t the exhibition a worldwide phenomenon, a vehicle for art’s dissemination that occurs across the world? If the exhibition is everywhere, is it being written about everywhere? And if so, how is this taking place, with what aims and methodologies? What are the sources that permit their study? What is the structure, and what are the limits? I found these questions to be central – and timely – for the young field of exhibition studies. Could it be that there is a potential for globality in as much as it is being set up with that intention? Would this entail that the field is more ‘undisciplined’ than what its Anglophone academic version seems to suggest? A wide geography of thought is a prospective characteristic of the field, one that can be said to be still up for grabs: this article will stress the importance of an understanding of the field that pushes this potential forward and will try to consider critically the implications of this outlook.

A collection of publications form the outline of a typology of exhibition studies literature. I have identified six categories of publications that engage with the field in different ways: the linear, the tangential, the supportive, the concentrated, the alternative and the experimental. Of course, any one of the books will invariably straddle several of these categories. Still, in as far as the focus here is to identify trends in methodologies and geographies of thought, the typology serves its purpose. Overall, it should allow reflections on exhibition studies’ epistemic basis, that is, the ways knowledge of art exhibitions is amassed and how this knowledge is shaped to become a valid contribution to this field. Questioning what is understood by exhibition studies and how it can be done, the typology applies itself to present a broad visualisation of the field.

Propelled by the conviction that studying art exhibitions and writing their histories are critical activities – as opposed to archaeological ones – I argue that exhibition studies weightiness as a new field of research lies with this possibility: that art historians and researchers can write histories of art that are geographically extensive, earmarked for a revisit of canons from a refreshed perspective. The possibility of moving in this burgeoning direction is hindered by the field’s academic fix. The greater the emphasis that is put on establishing the parameters that define the field, the less inclusive the field becomes. Crucially, the disciplinary boundaries also demand that a body of scholarly work is made available to back up the field – responding to scientific disciplinary rules – resulting in the production of studies that dutifully follow established canons and build on that reputation. Archaeological histories result from this process.

Exhibition Studies’ Publications: A Typology

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question…

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T. S. Eliot

from the ‘Epilogue’ of Sur/Exposition by Antonio Guzmán

The anthology Thinking about Exhibitions[6] was published exactly twenty years ago by the Anglo-American academic publisher Routledge. It recognises that the exhibition is a key player in contemporary culture, which explains the book’s fundamental role in the field of exhibition studies. The editors play with establishing an analogy between an anthology and an exhibition, defining both as “collections of discrete entities compiled for purposes of validation and distribution”.[7] They anchor the centrality of exhibitions in the postmodern context, positing them as discursive structures; in their definition of exhibitions and anthologies, they replicate Michel Foucault’s understanding of the discursive as a system of dispersed statements transforming into a critical debate. They put forward that exhibitions “establish and administer the cultural meanings of art”[8] and demand that their histories, structures and socio-political implications be analysed, theorised and written about. They delimitate their territory against what is considered, with Daniel Sherman and Irit Rogoff as references, museum culture. They state that the difference between the fields will have to do with the focus that is put on temporary exhibitions, on understanding instances of crises, of exploring the architectural politics and especially, unpacking the experience of exhibitions outside museum spaces.

I wish to postulate that Thinking about Exhibitions is a central publication, and to reflect on how it shaped the study of exhibitions as a field of research in its own right. The investigation that informs this article was conducted following this idea: Thinking about Exhibitions was located at the centre, functioning as a turning point in the study of art exhibitions. Publications are listed accordingly, creating a timeline that spans from 1951 to 2016. Other than its invaluable content, an important factor influencing the centrality of this anthology is the extensive bibliography included at the end of the book. The timeline that resulted from this investigation and that permeates the following typology can be found in Appendix 1 (Fig. 1).

Six categories will structure the following. The aim is to identify different ways in which the study of the exhibition can be conducted and trigger some considerations regarding the field’s epistemic basis: a variety of methodologies, methods, approaches, entry points and historiographies will be presented. These shall raise doubts about the field’s disciplinary borders, which can be regarded as having more to do with a pursuit of academic solidification than a genuine need of exhibition studies itself.


Linear histories of exhibitions are those that connect one exhibition to a preceding one and a following one, creating a timeline or succession of shows. The following publications are ‘Linear’ because they tell a story that grows in one direction and insists on a continuous trajectory. Their strongest feature is the ability to draw a concatenation, where causal relations become perceptible and a progression can be constructed. The weak points include the modernist ideology that can lie behind a progression; and the risk of selecting an exhibition because it fits the line, rather than prioritising other more relevant criteria.

Two of Bruce Altshuler’s publications, Salon to Biennial[9] and Biennials and Beyond,[10] published in the US in 2008 and 2013 respectively, observe this linear methodology. Within these books, individual chapters focus on a single show, presented through a collection of primary sources, providing a summary of historically important exhibitions. The emphasis is on recovering images and texts from the time of the exhibition – in the preface, this method is accounted for by arguing that unveiling archival materials is relevant in as far as these often enrich or, conversely, problematize the understanding of contemporary art and its recent past. There is a statement reinforcing the powerfulness of installation photographs, which are featured along with texts from catalogues, newspapers or journals published at the time. Providing the reader with undigested content, the history of each exhibition is reconstructed through compilation, positioning the unearthing of documentation as a process that lies at the core of the field. Resorting to the archive is a historiographical method in itself, but additionally, it underpins an opportunity to bring a plurality of voices to bear. This multiplicity is necessary if exhibitions are to be historicised in a way that acknowledges their fragmentary nature.

On the other hand, Altshuler’s publications are an example of the drawbacks of linear histories listed above. The volumes’ subtitle, Exhibitions that Made Art History, leaves little room outside of the narrow understanding of art history’s trajectory that is already distilled in Western art historical canons. In the preface to the 2013 volume, Altshuler acknowledges that there are other exhibitions that resonate with current art historical discussions (in his words: “art-making by members of marginalised groups, and activities in non-Western nations and postcolonial societies”).[11] The author explains that even if some of ‘those’ shows were included, the main thread of the books follows Western canons. The ‘other’ shows would seem to disturb the progress – progress here being a loaded term that cannot be separated from ideas of development and its modernist implications. In this sense, the narrative that is being constructed throughout the books is precisely one that indicates the evolution of art practice from a Western point of view towards and throughout the 20th century.

A third publication by Bruce Altshuler is best considered separately from the other two. While it shares the characteristic of mapping a continuous history of exhibitions, The Avant-garde in Exhibition,[12] published in the US in 1994, outlines the dynamics of exhibitions of the modern period exclusively.[13] Highlighting the idea of a network and its importance in the generation of debates, Altshuler explains that avant-garde movements depended on confrontation and that the central node where this encounter took place was the exhibition – “where artists, critics, dealers, collectors and the general public met and responded in various ways to what the artists had done” –[14]  setting the precedent for the study of the contemporary art exhibition as a discursive formation. However, the book has a modern approach not only because it is committed to looking into that historical period, but also because it shares the period’s values: the artists and their original artworks remain at the forefront of the analysis, even if the exhibition is used as the editorial structure. This can be noticed, for example, in the illustrations included in the publication; they are, for the most part, reproductions of artworks interspersed with portraits of important figures, and it is only sporadically that an installation photograph appears.[15] The modernist approach takes on a redoubled expression here, relying on the linear timeline – where progression is singled out as a value, and development from one show to the next is expected – but also subordinating the use of art exhibition to tell the story of individual genius. I would argue that this publication not only shows the risks of any linear narrative, but also posits the extent to which writing a history of exhibitions can fit the linear model at all. Does a contemporary history of exhibitions not demand instead a rhizomatic model? Can an escalating story, where the next exhibition seems to surpass the previous one, provide for a pertinent contribution today?

An example with a similar starting point yet a distinct theoretical background can be found in the research project ‘Histoire des Expositions: Carnet de Recherché du Catalogue Raisonné des Expositions du Centre Pompidou’,[16] conducted under the framework of the programme ‘Recherche et Mondialisation’ that began in 2010, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Its statement declares that it “contributes to the emergence of a discipline specifically dedicated to the history of exhibitions, at the crossroads of art history and museology, in order to build up a comprehensive catalogue raisonné of the Centre Pompidou’s exhibitions”.[17] It puts together the exhibition history of a particular institution, and therefore it draws a linear history that is in this case in a more constricted frame. Its publication, from 2012, is the website, a simple yet thorough timeline of the exhibitions that have taken place at the Centre Pompidou. This model, which lists shows, artists, curators and venues, and demonstrates the factual links between them, presents a hybrid example that nonetheless fits this category nicely. Two features are worthy of mention: the undiscriminated inclusion of shows, and the plurality of timelines presented to be read simultaneously. These two characteristics make this publication different from the ‘Linear’ examples examined above. It avoids the progressive model because it lists all the exhibitions, without attempting to create a narrative or argue for a development from one to the next. Complementary lists also accompany the timeline of exhibitions, which inform the reading of it, mapping the criss-cross of agents and authors, locations and markets. As it is, it presents a compelling ‘Linear’ methodology that can be set forth as the basis of this field of research if it is to be regarded as a holistic discipline that aims to work on stable historical foundations.


A second category of exhibition studies’ publications is ‘Tangential’. The category title indicates that these books focus on matters such as ‘the object’, ‘the installation of exhibitions’ or ‘architecture and design’, and the study of the exhibition follows from the attention put to these issues. Significantly, it could easily be argued that only in retrospect could these books be identified as building the field of exhibition studies. On the other hand, it should be noted that a multitude of examples actually fit this category – essentially any literature that in one way or another pervades the way we study an exhibition, tangentially informing the field’s present state. In any case, I believe that in the way they suffuse the study of the exhibition, there is potential for unfixing the field’s disciplinary borders.

Thinking about Exhibition‘s bibliography includes Umberto Eco’s essay “A Theory of Expositions”[18] published in 1967. This essay, alongside the well-known article by Brian O’Doherty “Inside the White Cube”,[19] can be read as a crucial starting point for the field. The Italian semiotician addresses the “meaning” of the Expo 67 world fair by tackling, among other issues, architecture and design as acts of communication. He describes the entrance, the walls, the images, the decoration and the interiors, and the different ways in which these elements communicate a message: directly – “achieved at the cost of exaggerating the obvious and reducing the ‘information’”;[20] aesthetically – “so full of nuance, so open to different interpretations”;[21] denotatively – “the redundant integration of words and images”,[22] and so on and so forth. Eco introduces the idea that there is a way in which an “exposition exposes itself”.[23] The essay unpacks the layers of interpretation implicit in exhibitions, anticipating the approach that exhibition studies will take in the following decades.

The category of ‘Tangential’ publications should also contain two issues of the journal Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne from 1986 and 1989, titled ‘L’œuvre et son Accrochage’ and ‘En Revant de l’Expo’ respectively.[24] These French publications call the attention to the study of the exhibition from new perspectives. The 1986 edition describes the lineages of histories that surround an artwork, starting with art history, continuing on to state that this has to be reinforced by the history of art histories, and ultimately, entering now a lesser explored terrain, the history of the artwork’s presentations, the histories “of the exhibitions of which it constitutes the object”.[25] This publication examines the reverberations of accrochage (which translates from French as hanging or installation). The other edition of Cahiers instead explores the connection between knowledge and ways of seeing, and how this relation determines our understanding of exhibitions.[26] The editorial points towards three major questions that the essays as an ensemble seek to answer: first, categories of exhibitions such as monograph, inventory, synthetic and the types of knowledge they convey; second, the modes of vision that are triggered by conceptions of space; and third, the link between exhibitions and cultural consumption. Summarising, these journals incorporate two new pathways where the study of the exhibition becomes relevant: that of following the trajectory of the object’s presentations, acknowledging its surroundings; and that of reading into exhibitions’ cultural agency, understanding them as inevitably participating in social dynamics of education and knowledge.

These editions of the Cahiers du Musée, although listed in Thinking about Exhibitions’ bibliography, were suggested to me by Spanish scholar Isabel Tejeda Martín. She has developed a fruitful body of work that focuses on the impact that the exhibition has on the work of art, further delving into the history of accrochages that was presented above. Her book El montaje expositivo como traducción,[27] as well as her paper “La exposición temporal: traducir y mostrar”[28] follow up on this dimension of the research field of exhibition studies. Her research has traced works through their multiple exhibitionary instances and has identified the extent to which the context influences those artworks’ interpretation. She puts the exhibitionary devices under the spotlight and builds an argument around the semantic displacements or decontextualisation that works of art are subjected to according to the dynamics of their presentation. The object’s presentation always produces a translation — she states.[29] Therefore, exhibition studies could examine the multiple instances where a work is shown to determine how each of these shapes the place the artwork will come to occupy or occupies already in art historical narratives. The conditions of display, that comprise both the practical level of exhibitionary design and props, to the social dynamics and hierarchical mechanisms embedded in institutions, are often disregarded when analysing a work of art and its interpretation. Importantly, including her books in the category of ‘Tangential’ exhibition studies publications counteracts the critique of the field that argues that by looking at the exhibition, the work of art is underestimated.[30] This criticism articulates a real problem and Tejeda Martín’s research can help provide some balance.


The wording here is unusual to a certain extent, so I will start by clarifying the category’s nomination. The adjective ‘supportive’ is defined as “providing encouragement or emotional help”,[31] which is not something that can be used to describe a history of exhibitions. Yet, it remains the right name for this category in as far as what is important here is not the moral or emotional encouragement but the fact that it provides support in the sense of giving assistance or allowing for corroboration. In the absence of a correct adjective to express the latter, I will stick to supportive and mould it to fit this particular usage.

What is a ‘Supportive’ publication? I will argue here that this category consists of volumes where a history of exhibitions, tout court, comes in to support another history, namely, the history of exhibition making. Curatorial practice draws from the history of exhibitions as its foundation, and inversely, the history of exhibitions owes much of its historization to the discourse energetically constructed around the figure of the curator. What I am interested in analysing here is a series of books and journals that use this foundational history in different ways, recognising different ‘Supportive’ histories. What are the intersections of these two areas of study? What are the specificities of curatorial publications’ methodologies? How are they ‘Supportive’ exhibition histories? How are they conducive to further cementing, with positive and negative connotations, exhibition studies as a field?

More than ten years after the publication of Thinking about Exhibitions, the online journal On Curating,[32] published an issue that alludes to the book’s title: ‘1, 2, 3, — Thinking about Exhibitions’. The following quote introduces this section:

In the course of history writing, representation and remembrance, certain aspects tend to become somewhat hidden in a bigger picture. The knowledge of the circumstances under which ‘Chambres d’Amis’ evolved – and many other exhibitions and experimental formats as well – is maybe not essential in judging the exhibition as such and questioning its potential and problematics, but it certainly is a reason to engage productively with problematic issues. In very common means, as when it comes to money problems, and also in the sense of taking political and societal situations into account. Everything we do is placed in a current context and every exhibition making ideally reflects this situation and accepts this challenge – needless to stress the ‘ideally’ in the sentence. Nonetheless this is something to strive for and thus to continually question one’s practice in relation to situations and issues outside the respective institution, the people involved, the art world so to say, to be able to develop adequate formats and activate potential.[33]

The quote needs to be understood in the context of the emergence of curatorial studies during the years between Thinking about Exhibitions and the mimetic journal issue (from 1996 to 2010). In the 2000s, the discourse around curatorial practice developed and many publications focused on the role of the curator. The quote’s insistence on the importance of addressing the exhibition as an object of study that includes its social context, however, testifies to a renewed interest, by the end of the decade, to refocus the analysis of art’s publicness around the exhibition rather than the figure of the curator. This quote thus shows the important intersection between curatorial studies and exhibition studies, and how the two fields overlap and then diverge. In fact, it is telling that many of the foundational texts on exhibition studies written around 2010 cite curatorial volumes as references.[34]

The list includes books such as Hans Ulrich Obrist’s A Brief History of Curating,[35] the study Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology[36] and Charlotte Klonk’s Spaces of Experience,[37] as well as the anthologies The Manifesta Decade,[38] What Makes a Great Exhibition?[39] and The Biennial Reader[40] together with the journals The Exhibitionist and the Journal of Curatorial Studies, among others. In most of these books, the study of the exhibition is conditioned by a higher interest in unpacking the nuances of exhibition making practice. The history of exhibitions is broader than this practice, which is preoccupied with only one aspect of exhibitions, however pivotal. Consequentially, the histories of exhibitions that these books assemble are ‘Supportive’ – they are concerned with and act as props to better understand the development of curatorial practice.

By way of illustration: in 2008, Hans Ulrich Obrist published his famous series of interviews with pioneering curators. The preface to those interviews describes Obrist’s contribution as one that builds on the existing examination of the history of exhibitions and reveals the underlying network between artists, curators and institutions that have played a role in this history. Notwithstanding the fact that it brings with it exciting documentation on exhibitions, the narrative is self-referential and curator-centric. Similarly, the book Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology begins with a strong affirmation, stating “it is now widely accepted that the art history of the second half of the 20th century is no longer a history of artworks, but a history of exhibitions”.[41] However, it then declares that the writing of this history is a pressing issue because it stands as the basis of the curatorial profession, subordinating one to another.

Another good example of ‘Supportive’ histories of exhibitions is the journal The Exhibitionist, first released in January 2010. It is a journal about exhibition-making that holds at its core the idea of the author, mimicking Cahiers du Cinéma’s alliance to cinéma d’auteur. In the journal, sections such as “Back in the day”, an in-depth look at a historically important exhibition, or “Rear mirror”, which invites one or more curators to reflect upon a recent exhibition of their own, are of course relevant to building exhibition histories; yet its overall approach is centred around the curator and her or his praxis, which compromises the extent to which the rest of the elements that play a role in the exhibition are taken into account.

Paul O’Neill presented his doctoral thesis in 2007, at Middlesex University in the UK, titled “The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s): The Development of Contemporary Curatorial Discourse in Europe and North America Since 1987”. The first part of this thesis was turned into a book in 2012.[42] O’Neill flags that during the 1990s the study of curatorial practice created a model of discourse that remained centred around the curator and bore unstable historical foundations, leading him to suggest that writing about the curatorial entails thinking “about how the exhibition of art has become part of a developmental process, of conceptualising ways in which art and its contexts are understood”.[43] He also tackles the shift that the study of art practice experienced in becoming “re-centred around the temporality of the event of the exhibition rather than the artworks on display”.[44]

By identifying the first-person narrative on which emergent curatorial discourse relied, O’Neill spots the necessity of ‘Supportive’ exhibition histories. He does not position one under the other, but he does explain the genealogical relation between them. I think this re-tracing or genealogical descent is indisputable, and even if it does not explain the emergence of exhibition studies as a field in its totality – which seems to be the claim in the foundational texts on exhibition studies written around 2010 – it does account as one of the reasons for its inception. So far we have seen how different examples of publications conduct exhibition studies, and although these will be fully recapitulated at the end of this text, we can at this point appreciate that the field engages with a variety of methods: through curatorial practice, through canonical histories, or by placing the art object in dialogue with its context. These modes of address have demonstrated reasons why the study of the exhibition is relevant to us today. An overarching reason will be analysed below, when the relationship between ‘Concentrated’ exhibition studies and art history is unpacked.


In London in 2010, Afterall Books inaugurated the ‘Exhibition Histories’ series, which is probably one of the most complete examinations of individual exhibitions to date. On the first page, the books state the series’ objectives, its time frame, the methodologies and the criteria employed to select an exhibition:

The history of modern art has conventionally focused on artistic production, emphasising the individual artist in the studio and the influences on his or her practice. Exhibition Histories complicates this approach by arguing for an examination of art in the moment and context in which it is made public. Exhibitions usually offer art its first contact with an audience, and in so doing they place art within explicit or implicit narratives and discursive frameworks. Every decision about the selection and installation of work, the choice and use of the venue, the marketing strategy and the accompanying printed matter informs our understanding of the art on display. The various agents and diverse factors that give form to an exhibition and determine its subsequent influence are addressed in these books from multiple standpoints: the voices of artists, curators and writers are all brought to bear.[45]

This text signposts the complex network of agents and decisions, materials and contexts that influence what an exhibition finally comes to be, and by doing so, somehow stipulates how to fully address the study of the exhibition. The examples cited under the category of ‘Concentrated’ will be those that embark on a full-on examination of the exhibition, its histories and its impact on contemporary art practice. This section will include publications that have further continued to expand the research field of exhibition studies by responding to a demarcated set of criteria.

Looking into Afterall’s series to begin with, what we find in this quote is an argument for the exhibition itself as the entrance door to the study of art. It is in the exhibition that art is placed “within explicit or implicit narratives and discursive frameworks”[46] by being the time and space when it meets its public. This will be one of Afterall’s most important contributions to exhibition studies methodologies and also, one of the reasons to reject an understanding of exhibition histories as an art-historical subgenre.[47] The other argument to defend this disciplinary autonomy reads: “One of the tantalising prospects of this nascent field is that, distinct from art history, and indeed curatorial studies, it is developing across a worldwide network of initiatives rather than being genealogically rooted in North America and Western Europe”.[48]

I think it is necessary to draw a parenthesis here and address the field’s relation to the discipline of art history, before continuing with the typology. As stated above, I believe that the overarching reason for the field’s inception lies in this relation. My understanding of it would point in the opposite direction to the one that Afterall Books is defending. To begin with, I would have difficulty arguing that exhibition studies is not a direct continuation of New Art History and, in particular, its imbrication with semiotics. Radical art historians have insisted on the interconnectedness of three considerations that define their object of study: an artwork’s representational structures (intrinsic and extrinsic),the viewing subject that creates meanings out of it and the historical context.[49] Similarly, semiotic’s encounter with art history introduced new areas of debate among which we find “the problematics of authorship, context, and reception”.[50] I think exhibition studies is suggesting new ways in which to tackle those same issues; arguing for the exhibition as an object of study that allows for a full examination of these aspects, which have already complicated art historical methodologies.

Secondly, I believe it is thanks to the fact that exhibition studies falls under the larger umbrella of the discipline of art history that its geography of thought gains traction and urgency. Elaborating on this statement is crucial: in the introduction to this article, exhibition studies was presented as a ‘global native’ explaining how its birth following the events of 1989 made it inhabit a conception of the world where contemporary art practice could no longer be reduced to solely taking place in the West. As a consequence of this line of thought, it was suggested that enlarging the field’s disciplinary boundaries and geography of thought was pivotal to developing the field’s potential. Accessing a variety of art practices, those that are scattered around the world and convene to be represented under the exhibition form, is exhibition studies’ pull.

The ambition to develop exhibition studies across a worldwide network of initiatives loses potency if we isolate the knowledge the field amasses instead of making it engage with the long tradition of the discipline of art history. I believe it is essential to appreciate that exhibition studies is in constant dialogue with this history and its overwhelming Western scope. Where else would it establish its grip? Being dismissive of the power dynamics that govern this discipline seems unwise. I would argue for a field of research that recognises the importance of looking back, correcting, and threading in new histories instead of trying to give the analysis of art a fresh, and maybe fake, start. As curator Miguel A. López stated: “We do not recover the past in order to make it exist as a bundle of skeletons, but to disturb the orders and assurances of the present”.[51] In writing the history of exhibitions, we are engaging with a recovery of the past. Illuminating a history of exhibitions but being indifferent to its potency to disturb or disrupt art history and its Western canons would, I believe, lead us to producing just a “bundle of skeletons”. Herein lies the importance of working from this subgenre, instead of finding a disciplinary tabula rasa.

Returning to the category of ‘Concentrated’ publications, the format of Afterall’s ‘Exhibition Histories’ series consists of a commissioned main essay alongside interviews and archival material. It presents a polyphonic recount by gathering different kinds of texts and publishing primary sources that complicate a linear history of the exhibition. The series also identifies the pivotal moment of art becoming public, selecting the singular event of the exhibition as an object of study, which provides grounds to engage fully with the study of art’s context. Context reveals the determinants that condition, for example, a particular work of art and its reception, but in the examination of context there is an obstacle to overcome: its non-terminability. This loops back to the criticism of exhibition studies that articulates that the artwork itself is left behind when the study focuses on the exhibition. Opening up layer after layer of context can produce this effect.

Grupo de Estudios Sobre Museos y Exposiciones(Study Group on Museums and Exhibitions, GEME) began in Buenos Aires in 2002.[52] This research group can be identified as one of the pioneering undertakings of the study of the exhibition.[53] But more importantly, because it operated from inside the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum, MNBA), its work lays one of the cornerstones for the overlap between museology and exhibition studies. GEME will be the second example in the category, a ‘Concentrated’ research project and series of publications that centres its analysis on the exhibition and yet is contextualised in museology for propulsion. Singling out its methodologies will help us think through the construction of exhibition studies.

GEME is based in the MNBA’s research department, gathers art historians specialised on different decades of recent Argentinean art history and is supported by public and private funding. It was first set up to deal with ‘exhibition folders’ that were recovered from the trash container: reams of documentation on long-forgotten shows – from installation floor plans and spatial designs, ephemera and press releases, to papers, letters and faxes – that had to be made sense of and classified to form an intelligible exhibition file. (what is now called the Schiaffino archive). Centring on the exhibition as an object of study, GEME’s work was not limited to organising the archival documentation but also to give it a frame, slowly aiming to write the narrative that linked those documents together. One of their first achievements was to map and list the exhibitions that had taken place in Buenos Aires’ main public institutions from the 1950s to the present. A second phase in GEME’s activities saw each member of the study group focused on the in-depth investigation of one exhibition of the permanent collection in particular at the National Museum of Fine Arts. Symposia were organised to present this research, alongside that of invited speakers, in different cities around the country. Each one of these conferences referred specially to the history of exhibitions in the city where it was held,[54] making a contribution towards further investigating and historicising the exhibitions of the country and of South America as well.[55] The collected papers now constitute a series of volumes titledExposiciones de Arte Argentino y Latinoamericano.[56]

María José Herrera, director of GEME, describes the theoretical anchorage and methodological approach of the research. She quotes Tony Bennett and Michel Foucault, using the concept of heterotopia to understand the museum as “a place where all culture is simultaneously represented, contested and inverted”.[57] She also refers to Douglas Crimp’s inclusion of museums among the institutions that articulate power relations, and to Bennett’s ‘exhibitionary complex’. The conception of the museum and its exhibitions as “vehicles for inscribing and broadcasting the message of power throughout society”[58] is central to their research. Consequently, GEME’s original project positions the study of the exhibition as a way in which the historian can retrace the trajectory of the institution in its fullest apprehension and examine the latter’s contribution to local art history. Their aim is to analyse the discourses the museum constructs, to reflect on their historical and sociological trajectory. Looking to improve the scarceness of institutional historization,[59] GEME builds a positive legacy in terms of how the study of the exhibition enables the reconstruction of institutional narratives.

After 2006 and their first symposium, the scope of their research is enlarged to include exhibitions that take place outside of institutional contexts as well. Interestingly, the idea that exhibitions are telling of historical and social dynamics is maintained and reinforced. GEME’s books present compilations of essays in which they pay attention to the context (historical, political, social and economical), the institution, the dynamics of the agents working inside of it and the city where it is located, alongside the artistic practices of the time. The volumes compile more than twenty essays devoted to the study of one exhibition, each by a different author. The chapters form groups of essays considering types of shows (institutional, historically relevant and counter-cultural). Because each article is written by a different scholar, who is not expected to be exhaustive, some exhibitions are revisited throughout the books allowing the history of exhibitions to remain open and be further complicated. In each book, the order of the essays tends to be chronological, so that a continuous reading of the anthology is also possible. Collectively, the books write a proper local history of exhibitions.

Their methodologies present two distinctive features. Firstly, the dialogue with existing historiography, that is, revising, contesting and confirming the narratives in Argentine art history. It also encounters Western art history and its positive and negative influences in the country. GEME’s work tractions on existing historical narratives and studies exhibitions to complicate those historiographical accounts; encouraging exhibition studies to inhabit its role as a sub-field of art history and also including historical revisions as one of its virtues. Secondly, although GEME’s study of the exhibition is academic, it is far from incorporating the disciplinary boundaries that define exhibition studies in Anglophone universities. For instance, the figure of the curator is present at all times, sometimes in the centre of the analysis, as are the museological theories that inform their investigation. Interestingly, for GEME, exhibition studies functions alongside rather than separated from curatorial studies, museology and art history.

As a whole, GEME’s project communicates a comprehensive examination of local art practice and its context, without presenting a general or univocal history but instead attending to a variety of interspersed exhibitions, focusing on their historiographical effects. These characteristics make GEME fit the category of ‘Concentrated’ studies of exhibitions. What does this example add to the idea of exhibition studies having potential to become a global field of research? Can GEME’s condensed local history prove to be a rich source through which to engage with Argentine modern and contemporary art practice? Can this reinforce the idea of the field of exhibition studies fostering productive global exchanges and disturbing Western art historical narratives?


The category of ‘Alternative’ histories of exhibitions encompasses a series of publications where the retrieved histories present a move away from Western art historical canons.

Exhibition Histories: Stedelijk Studies issue #2 was published in 2015, in the Netherlands. The journal as a whole undertakes the project of writing an alternative history of exhibitions. Two of the essays deal with the local history of the museum where the publication is produced, in an introspective procedure. As the Editorial states, in these articles the authors “analyse exhibitions that have been virtually forgotten, remaining in the shadow of the more well-known exhibitions”.[60] By considering the institutional discourses – or mere agendas – that surround exhibition histories and unearthing the alternative narratives that appear to want to be dismissed by art institutions, these two essays contribute an important methodology to engage with the field of exhibition studies, that of institutional critique.

In another article, Maria Bremer intensely describes how the selection of case studies in exhibition history writing is done “according to a logic of masterpieces while excluding exhibitions that are regarded as not having made art history”.[61] She stresses that this logic is “often rooted in the modernist debate”,[62] and calls for further consideration of the criteria used to decide which exhibitions actually contribute to the shaping of art history and how. Consequently, her article examines documenta 6, arguing for its relevance as an exhibition that consolidates a specific artistic canon – in contrast with documenta 5 that has been thoroughly historicised due to its various innovative approaches. “What if, rather than limiting its focus to the modes of rupture and innovation, exhibition history started acknowledging the historiographical potential underlying inconspicuous, yet equally effective modes: those of repetition and consolidation?”[63] Ultimately, her article raises an important question regarding exhibition histories’ blind spots.

A further essay, ‘Documenting the Marvellous’,[64] sheds light on another historiographical issue: it addresses the dependence of researchers on the available documentation of exhibitions. Even if this is a challenge that is common to every historian, in particular this article unpacks the relationship between three-dimensional exhibitions and the resulting two-dimensional photographs that document them. The author draws a series of considerations that result from critically examining to what extent installation photographs are reliable, and suggests a revision of the historical relevance that is conferred to exhibitions according to them. Her case in point is the canonical Surrealist show of 1938: because the exhibition was thoroughly documented – the artists themselves were conscious of the importance of recording the experience of the show – this article argues that it has come to occupy a disproportionately central place compared to other Surrealist exhibitions.

The texts in this journal flag the close links that exist between writing a history of exhibitions and historiographic absences. Finding a way to uncover those shows that remain in the shadows and can be useful to disturb our present understanding of art historical canons, resonates as a remarkable aspect of the field.[65]

Elena Filipovic has conceived and edited a publication where another history is written, that of the shows curated by artists.[66] Referring to the field that studies the exhibition as one that still doesn’t have a clear answer to the question of how to properly historicise itself,[67] Filipovic adds to this incipient historization a category that includes those exhibitions where artists have used the show itself as a medium, as a way to interrogate both the art object and its institution. The consecutive issues that form the publication each present “one historical and one more recent seminal artist-curated exhibition”.[68] This method – juxtaposing the contemporary to the historical – and the singling out of this group of shows, are both useful to understand that a variety of historiographical approaches to the study of the exhibition – and the subsequent canons these assemble – are possible.[69]

Further expanding the category of ‘Alternative’ histories of exhibitions with an example from Spain, is the book Public Photographic Spaces.[70] Jorge Ribalta writes in the introduction that, drawing from the Frankfurt School’s project of building a social and cultural historiography of art, this book looks to trace the evolution of a certain dynamic conception of the exhibition space introduced by El Lissitzky.[71] Placing the use of photography at the centre, the publication draws a narrative of exhibitions that emerge from this legacy, ending with ‘The Family of Man’ (MoMA, 1955), which is posited as “the culmination of the principles of the exhibition based on expanded vision”.[72] The book puts together contemporary and archival texts – some of them theoretical essays that analyse the communist, fascist or capitalist context of these shows – delivering an embedded study of the exhibition and delineating an alternative trajectory of exhibition histories.

The ultimate model of the ‘Alternative’ category is Mary Anne Staniszewski’s 1998 book The Power of Display,[73] which deals specifically with the way exhibitions were staged, installed and designed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Staniszewski presents exhibition design as an aesthetic medium and a historical category, first addressing its general evolution throughout the 20th century, and then uncovering MoMA’s installation history in greater detail. She examines, among many other matters, the pivotal role of El Lissitzky in particular, and Russian Constructivists in general, in making exhibition design an important aspect of their artistic practice. Because she identifies the history of display as one that should inform the way art history is told, Staniszewski’s book grounds exhibition design as a precedent to thinking about exhibitions as complex semiotic networks. She unravels a whole new dimension of how other histories inform and condition the history of art as we know it.


The last category presents examples of publications that have used an experimental method to write a history of exhibitions. As such, these methods divert particularly from an academic – or scientific – historiographical approach. This category is relevant in as far as it presents a realm of speculative ways to study the exhibition.

A curious French case, the catalogue from 1985 Sur/Exposition,[74] features an examination of relatively unexplored constituents of an art show. This publication includes articles that expand on topics such as “the list of material present in the exhibition”;[75] bullet points detailing the number of screws, pegs, metres of wire and so on that are used in the space; detailed information on the exhibition’s media, including reports on the graphic design’s composition and the dates chosen to release certain communications; and an essay describing the architecture and the operation of the building where the exhibition is hosted. This dissection is part of a university project, in which the problems of contemporary art’s presentation were being evaluated. The examination of the constituents of the art show puts the exhibition at the fore, and sets the grounds for it to become the central object of a field of research in its own right. The ‘Experimental’ method silently articulates the endless possibilities at play when the study of the exhibition is conducted.

Issue number 51 of Mousse is a different example of the resources that can be employed to put together a history of exhibitions. This edition of the magazine came out in 2016 and presents photographs of shows that took place between 1985 and 1995; considered by the magazine as the last ten years or so before exhibitions went online. This photo issue aims to put together the pictures that survive from that time where exhibitions occupied a truly, or at least more, ephemeral condition, arguing that visiting an exhibition became non-compulsory afterwards, because one can now access a show through its website – in itself, a debatable statement. Nonetheless, I wish to distinguish the singular characteristics of this project: there is a simple but powerful resort to writing a history by means of compiling photographs and also, sourcing from a pool of collaborators who were each asked to share their one favourite show.

Finally, Ivo Mesquita’s unpublished research,[76] introduces yet another ‘Experimental’ method: he traces the history of a biennial by means of gathering the exhibition’s reviews. During his postgraduate studies, Mesquita took on a research project where he aimed to write the history of the Bienal de São Paulo using press materials. He focused on finding every article published up until that time (1977) and on weaving a history of the biennial that solely used this primary material as a source of information. In 1992, Mesquita received a bursary to complete and publish this research, and it is at this point in his life where his path crosses Bruce Ferguson’s, editor of Thinking about Exhibitions. A myriad of reasons might have triggered Ferguson’s search for a Latin American reference to include in his anthology; irrespective, he asked Ivo Mesquita for any such material and Mesquita advanced him an unfinished copy of his research project. This would become an entry in the long bibliography that Thinking about Exhibitions references, which reads: “Mesquita, Ivo, A Bienal de São Paulo 1951-1991, São Paulo, Ed. do Autor, 1995”. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Mesquita never got to publish his investigation, and the bibliographical entry is actually a false one. It was, however, the trail I followed to gather this report. Although I haven’t been able to see this unpublished research, the author explained how it became the basis for his curatorial project for the 2008 Bienal de São Paulo, an edition known as the ‘Bienal Vacía’ (‘Empty Biennial’). A reflexive exhibition that actually inquired into the history and existence of the Bienal de São Paulo itself, the role of the archive in this show was paramount. It is here that Ivo Mesquita’s postgraduate research enters the picture once again: it was used as a basis to develop the concept underlying the show and was brought up to date by four researchers that were part of the biennial’s curatorial team. Four volumes amassing the totality of press reviews written on the Bienal de São Paulo now sit in the biennial’s official archive. This ‘unpublished publication’ and its method, restricted to press material, is a so far unique addition to the field of exhibition studies.

Several hypotheses have been advanced here that are worth briefly recalling. ‘Linear’ histories have been useful to ponder on the extent to which exhibition histories are more truthfully depicted as rhizomatic. ‘Tangential’ and ‘Supportive’ histories have enlightened a series of interests in the study of art that intersect with exhibition studies. Both examples from the ‘Concentrated’ category have advanced the merits of exhibition studies as a field of research and expanded its possibilities for the future. ‘Alternative’ histories seek to relativise, to an extent, all of the above, posing important questions regarding the historiography of exhibitions. ‘Experimental’ examples contribute a broad understanding of the ways of gathering knowledge and the valid contributions that shape exhibition studies’ epistemic basis.

The typology can be used to understand the organic advent of exhibition studies as a field of research. The listed categories follow a gradual crescendo. With notable chronological exceptions, there is certain progression from a linear history of exhibitions towards a concentrated focus on the exhibition as an important object of study. In between, as this progression moves forward, it receives the influence of tangential and ‘supportive’ studies. As the field establishes itself, alternative and experimental approaches to it emerge or are retrospectively discovered, questioning its methods and methodologies and generating a consolidation and simultaneous bifurcation of the field’s parameters. As has been mentioned before, this reading of the typology does not in all cases coincide with the chronological moment in which these publications come to exist. Yet in terms of understanding the advent of exhibition studies it does open up a hypothesis that can allow us to think of the fields possibilities further. This would mean to posit that as a global native, exhibition studies is a field that has emerged organically and that has, also in that manner, geared towards questioning its own disciplinary boundaries.

This typology has also served the purpose of demonstrating the variety of ways in which the study of the exhibition is taking place in different parts of the world. The examples cited come from Argentina, Brasil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States. Without doubt, this research has missed notable examples from parts of the world that were inaccessible to the author for one reason or another. Regardless of the disclaimer that was already introduced in the beginning, what should be rescued is that surely many more examples from other parts of the world exist too. Upon analysing GEME, the question was raised of whether their work could be taken as a case in point of the ways exhibition studies could foster global productive exchanges. If many other such histories are being written around the world, then it could be interesting to hypothesise about what could become of a field that looks to bring them together.

It is my understanding that this dialogue would be more fluent and richer if the various approaches to exhibition studies are accepted as part of the field. Unfixing its methods and methodologies – yielding to accept that there are many ways in which the study of the exhibition can be undertaken with productive results – might be an important shift at this early stage when the field is still establishing its bearings. In the academy, as a field becomes recognised, or comes into existence, centuries-old habits that define disciplinary boundaries are set in motion; British sociologist Basil Bernstein has articulated the extent of this process, explaining how disciplines are “insulated” for protection.[77] This research recognises the emergence of exhibition studies as a field and the risk it runs of becoming unadventurous if it entrenches under rigid disciplinary parameters. Opening up its epistemic basis, this typology tries to breech that disciplinary insularity. The more undisciplined the field becomes, the more it will be able to accommodate other exhibition studies, ultimately allowing for an expansion of its geographic scope as well.





[1] See Appendix 1 for a full list of the publications that were taken into account for the typology.

[2] Electronic document:, accessed December 2016.

[3] Christian Rattemeyer et al., Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ 1969, London, Afterall Books, 2010.

[4] Lucy Steeds “Introduction//Contemporary Exhibitions: Art at Large in the World”, in Lucy Steeds (ed.), Exhibition, Documents of Contemporary Art, London, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press, 2014.

[5] The sense of the word native is borrowed from the term ‘digital native’ used in educational theory to describe a young generation of students as «native speakers» of the digital language of computers, videos, video games, social media and other sites on the internet. Electronic document:, accessed May 2016.

[6] Reesa Greenberg, Bruce Ferguson, and Sandy Nairne (eds.), Thinking About Exhibitions, London and New York, Routledge, 1996.

[7] Greenberg et al., op. cit., p. 1.

[8] Greenberg et al., op. cit., p. 2.

[9] Bruce Altshuler, Salon to Biennial – Exhibitions that Made Art History, Volume 1: 1863-1959, New York, Phaidon Press, 2008.

[10] Bruce Altshuler, Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions that Made Art History: Volume 2: 1962-2002, New York, Phaidon Press, 2013.

[11] Altshuler, Biennials and Beyond… op. cit., p. 7.

[12] Bruce Altshuler, The Avant-Garde in Exhibition: New Art in the 20th Century, New York, Harry N. Abrams, 1994.

[13] Salon to Biennial also bears a modern timeframe yet it is published as part of the two volume series, where the second volume includes contemporary art exhibitions.

[14] Altshuler, The Avant-Garde in Exhibition… op. cit., p. 8.

[15] Even if photographs of shows will become more and more common as image technologies progress in the 20th century, there is still a big contrast between The Avant-Garde in Exhibition and Thinking about Exhibitions, where the reproductions of artworks amount to less than a dozen. A precedent to The Avant-garde in Exhibition is Die Kunst der Ausstellung, which was published in Germany in 1991. It is revealing to analyze its inclusion of images, given that it was published some years earlier but encompasses a similar time period. Die Kunst der Ausstellung only includes one, if any, reproductions of artworks per chapter – the majority of images present an installation view of the show. Interestingly, the only chapter that does not include an installation photograph has a double page displaying small reproductions of artworks that are arguably presented in a similar way to how artworks would be arranged on the wall, stressing a reading of the artworks next to one another.

[16] Histoire des Expositions: Carnet de Recherche du Catalogue Raisonné des Expositions du Centre Pompidou. Publication in electronic document: (2012) and Official website:, accessed May 2016. The name translates as “History of Exhibitions: Research Platform for a Catalogue of Exhibitions of the Centre Pompidou”. Interestingly, the cercle de réflexion, as they call themselves, is structured to support students that come in as either interns or doctorate researchers, uniting institutional and academic exhibition histories.

[17] Ibídem, no page.

[18] Umberto Eco, “A theory of expositions (1967)”, in Travels in Hyperreality, London, Picador, 1987.

[19] Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999. Originally published as a series of three articles in Artforum in 1976.

[20] Eco, op. cit., p. 302.

[21] Ibídem.

[22]  Ibídem.

[23] Eco, op. cit., p. 296.

[24] Cahiers du musée d’art moderne #17-18 L’œuvre et son accrochage (1986) and Cahiers du musée d’art moderne #29 En revant de l’expo (1989). The titles translate as “The work of art and its installation” and “Dreaming about the exhibition”, own translation.

[25] Cahiers du musée d’art moderne#17-18 L’œuvre et son accrochage(1986).

[26] The original reads: “Le rapport à la connaissance et aux formes du regard est évidement crucial, d’abord parce que derrière l’art il y a l’histoire de l’art, et surtout parce que l’appréciation des ouvres requièrent des informations des diverses sortes”, “Editorial”, Cahiers du musée d’art moderne #29 En revant de l’expo, no. 29, 1989.

[27] Isabel Tejeda Martin, El Montaje Expositivo como Traducción. Fidelidades, Traiciones y Hallazgos en el arte contemporáneo desde los años 70, Madrid, Trama editorial, 2006.

[28] Isabel Tejeda Martin, “La exposición temporal: traducir y mostrar”, unpublished paper delivered at Cuartas Jornadas sobre Exposiciones de Arte, Centro Cultural Borges, Buenos Aires, August 28-30, 2013.

[29] Tejeda Martin, El Montaje Expositivo…op. cit.

[30] See for example Claire Bishop’s article “Shows of Force”, Artforum, vol. 52, no. 7, 2014 or Julian Meyers, “On the value of a history of exhibitions”, The Exhibitionist, no. 4 La Critique, 2011.

[31] Oxford Dictionary of English.

[32] On Curating, 1,2,3… Thinking About Exhibitions, issue 06,2010.

[33] “Annette Hans and Florian Waldvogel, Interview by Dorothee Richter” on the symposium ‘Forms of Exhibitions’, Saturday, July 11 – Sunday, July 12, 2009, Kunstverein Hamburg. In On Curating 1,2,3… Thinking About Exhibitions, issue 06, 2010.

[34] The books I will analyze in this section were referenced in the following symposia and articles: (i) the list of recommended bibliography in the symposium “The Exhibition and Its Histories”, University of Edinburgh, 2013 electronic document:, accessed May 2016; (ii) Isabel Tejeda Martin, “On the Writing of Exhibitions”, Manifesta Journal, no. 7 The Grammar of the Exhibition, 2009-2010; (iii)  Julian Myers, “On the value of a history of exhibitions”, The Exhibitionist no. 4 La Critique,  2011; (iv) Bruce Altshuler, “A Canon of Exhibitions”, Manifesta Journal, no. 11, 2010-2011; (v) Claire Bishop, “Shows of Force”, Artforum, vol. 52, no. 7, 2014; (vi) Lucy Steeds, “Unsolved Histories”, Artforum, vol. 52, no. 10, 2014; (vii) Elena Filipovic in the bibliography list attached to “Artists as Curators #0: When Exhibitions Become Form”, Mousse Magazine, no. 41, 2014. All of these articles touch upon the matter of which publications should be considered as fundamental to exhibition studies as a field, in one way or another.

[35] Hans Ulrich Obrist, A brief history of curating, Zurich, JRP Ringier, 2008.

[36] Florence Derieux and François Aubart, Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodologies, Zurich, JRP Ringier, 2007.

[37] Charlotte Klonk, Spaces of Experience: Art Gallery Interiors from 1800 to 2000, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2009.

[38] Barbara Vanderlinden and Elena Filipovic (eds.), The Manifesta Decade: Debates on Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Biennials in Post-wall Europe, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2005. Isabel Tejeda Martin lists The Manifesta Decade amongst similar publications such as Enzo Di Martino, The History of the Venice Biennale, Venice, 2007 and 50 Jahre Documenta 1955-2005, Göttingen, 2005. An important amount of work on the subject of documenta from the German journal Kunstforum (issues 53-4, 90 and 119) is cited in the bibliography of Thinking about Exhibitions and could have been included in the timeline from Appendix 1. However, the literature on the trajectory of a particular mega-exhibition or institution exceeds the scope of this essay.

[39]  Paula Marincola, Paula (ed.), What makes a great Exhibition?, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative and Reaktion Books, 2007.

[40] Elena Filipovic, Marieke Van Hal, and Solveig Øvstebø (eds.), The Biennial Reader: An anthology on large-scale perennial exhibitions of contemporary art, Bergen and Ostfildern, Bergen Kunsthall and Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2010.

[41] Derieux, et al., op. cit., p. 1.

[42] Paul O’Neill, Paul, “The culture of curating and the curating of culture(s): the development of contemporary curatorial discourse in Europe and North America since 1987”, doctoral thesis presented at Middlesex University, 2007; and Paul O’Neill, The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s), Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2012.

[43] O’Neil, The Culture of Curating… op. cit., p. 170.

[44] O’Neil, The Culture of Curating… op. cit., p. 5.

[45] Christian Rattemeyer et. al, Exhibiting the New Art: ‘Op Losse Schroeven’ and ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ 1969, Afterall Books, London, 2010.

[46] Rattemeyer et. al, op. cit., presentation page.

[47] For a discussion on the relation between exhibition studies and art history see Claire Bishop and Lucy Steeds in Artforum, op. cit.

[48]  Steeds, op. cit., p. 68.

[49] Jonathan Harris, The New Art History. A Critical Introduction, London and New York, Routledge, 2001. This sentence is a summary of the first paragraph of page 194.

[50]  Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson “Semiotics and Art History”, The Art Bulletin, vol. 73, no. 2, 1991. See sections 2, 3 and 4 for detailed accounts of each of these problematics.

[51] Miguel A. López, “How Do We Know What Latin American Conceptualism Looks Like?”, Afterall Journal, no. 23, 2010.

[52] Its members are Fabiana Serviddio, Mariana Marchesi, Viviana Usubiaga and Cecilia Rabossi, and the director is María José Herrera.

[53] In the beginning of the 2000s, taking into account the publications that are analyzed for this essay (see Appendix timeline), only Bruce Altshuler in the US was working consistently inside the field.

[54] The first Jornadas sobre Exposiciones de Arte Argentino y Latinoamericano (Conferences on Exhibitions of Argentine and Latin American Art) happened in the city of Buenos Aires in May 2006. The second in Córdoba in 2009, a third in Rosario in 2011, a forth one in Buenos Aires in 2013 and an upcoming one will take place in Salta in 2016.

[55] The first book will refer almost absolutely to exhibitions that took place in Buenos Aires, with only three essays out of 22 touching upon exhibitions that happened in other parts of the country. In the second book, eleven essays out of 23 are focus on Argentinean case-studies outside the city of Buenos Aires and another three look into Latin American ones. In the third book, eleven are about Buenos Aires, nine about other Argentinean locations and five from Latin America, out of a total of 25.

[56] The name of the series translates as Exhibitions of Argentine and Latin American Art. The anthological volumes corresponding to each meeting were published in 2009, 2011, and 2013, and the dossier published in this issue of Caiana a fourth one is expected for June 2016. María José Herrera (ed.), Exposiciones de arte argentino, 1956-2006: la confluencia de historiadores, curadores e instituciones en la escritura de la historia, Buenos Aires, AAMNBA, 2009. María José Herrera (ed.), Exposiciones de arte Argentino y Latinoamericano. Curaduría, diseño y políticas culturales, Buenos Aires, Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes Dr. Figueroa Alcorta, 2011. María José Herrera (ed.), Exposiciones de arte Argentino y Latinoamericano: El rol de los museos y los espacios culturales en la interpretación y la difusión del arte, Buenos Aires, Fundación Alfonso y Luz Castillo. Ediciones Arte x Arte, 2013.

[57] Herrera, Exposiciones de arte Argentino y Latinoamericano: El rol de los museos…op. cit., p. 14. Own translation.

[58] Tony Bennett, “The Exhibitionary Complex”, in Thinking About Exhibitions, op. cit.

[59] Very little work on the history of the museum had been done previously. The first catalogue published by the Museum was from 1996, for example.

[60] Linda Boersma and Patrick van Rossem, “Rewriting or Reaffirming the Canon? Critical Readings of Exhibition History. Editorial”, Stedelijk Studies Exhibition Histories, issue 2, 2015.

[61] Maria Bremer, “Modes of Making Art History. Looking back at documenta 5 and documenta 6”, Stedelijk Studies Exhibition Histories, issue 2, 2015.

[62] Boersma et al., op. cit., p. 5.

[63] Bremer, op. cit., p. 2.

[64] Madeleine Kennedy, “Documenting the Marvelous. The Risks and Rewards of Relying on Installation Photographs in the Writing of Exhibition History”, Stedelijk StudiesExhibition Histories, issue 2, 2015.

[65] Another recent research project, started in 2015 in Laussane, Switzerland, is ‘Theatre Garden Bestiary: A Materialist History of Exhibitions’. I understand that it is connected to this idea of shadowed histories that the essays from the Stedelijk journal put forward. Pushing the field to new grounds, this laboratory looks to lay bare the history of modernism under which the exhibition as a genre has been constructed. One of the objectives is to “uncover in normative ways a sum of theoretical and practical proposals on the type of conceptual traction that the genre of exhibition may have over the future of the space of art”. Their questioning about the place of the genre of the exhibition “in an expanded geography of borders and conceptual divides that have historically structured the space of art” is also related to these uncovered histories. Their investigation is oriented towards a publication, on which they will work during the year 2017. Electronic document:, accessed May 2016.

[66] In 2012, she presented this idea at the symposium Artist as Curator organised by Afterall in a paper titled “When Exhibitions Become Form: A Brief History of the Artist as Curator”, which was later used as the introduction to a series of publications delivered together with Mousse magazine in ten consecutive issues, printed in Italy throughout 2014 and 2015.

[67] Elena Filipovic, ‘”Artists as Curators #0: When Exhibitions Become Form”, Mousse Magazine issue 41, 2014.

[68] Filipovic, op. cit., p. 1.

[69] A further addition to this category is the book A History of Exhibitions: Shanghai 1979-2006, Manchester, Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art, 2014, edited by Biljana Ciric. It compiles archival material on thirty-four exhibitions that took place in the city of Shanghai, also focusing on artists’ exhibition-making practices.

[70] Jorge Ribalta (ed.), Public Photographic Spaces: Exhibitions of Propaganda, from Pressa to The Family of Man, 1928-1955, Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2008. I would like to thank Helena Vilalta for this suggestion. The book was published on the occasion of the exhibition Universal Archive. The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia, 2008-2009.

[71] Ribalta, op. cit., p. 13.

[72] Ribalta, op. cit., p. 24.

[73] Mary Anne Staniszewski, The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1998. I have only managed to read some information online about Lisbeth Rebollo Gonçalves’ book Entre Cenografia: O museu e a exposição de arte no século XX, São Paulo, Edusp/FAPESP, 2004, but it appears to have a similar approach, based on the history of exhibition design.

[74] Sylvie Blottière-Derrien, Sylvie Zavatta and Jean-Marc Poinsot, Sur/Exposition: Regardes sur l’exposition d’art contemporain, Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts Rennes, 1985. This will be the only publication mentioned in this Chapter that is an exhibition catalogue, although I would argue it documents a research that makes it go beyond that classification.

[75] Blottière-Derrien et al., op. cit., p. 43. “Liste du matériel présenté dans l’exposition”, own translation.

[76] The following information is from a Skype conversation with Ivo Mesquita conducted on May 2 2016.

[77] Basil Bernstein, “On the Classification and Framing of Knowledge”, in M.F.D. Young (ed.), Knowledge and Control: New Directions for the Sociology of Education, New York, Collier Macmillan, 1971.