of an Exhibition
Published on April 12, 2007, Modified on October 02, 2009
Museum: Vancouver Gallery of Art
Visit Date: January, 2002
I first saw Massive Change at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. I had heard about it from staff at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where the exhibition originated, and from all the press materials I received, it sounded like it might be different from the usual museum fare. In terms of uniqueness, I wasnt disappointed. In fact, designer Bruce Mau broke some hefty rules with this one. The exhibition was full of wall text, sometimes from floor to ceiling. Objects were displayed without labels or accompanying information.
In one room, designers wrote by hand on the walls. Another room was completely dark, except for the glow of digital screens. (I can hear so many museum operations folks warning about trip hazards and lawsuits.) One room was covered from floor to ceiling with images. And there was even a café serving food and drink in the exhibition.
I had to keep my museum biases in check. The exhibition was, indeed, a book on the walls, and lo and beholdpeople were reading. Visitors seemed to spend a lot of time in one space primarily comprised of gossamer banners that contained images and text. As each person moved through the space, the banners would wave gently, sometimes making it difficult to read. Nevertheless, people were reading, even if they had to hold onto the banner to steady it.
In the room covered with images, there were no captions, and it was often impossible to decipher what an image represented. Still, people stayed, mingled, and looked at the images from ankle to ceiling.
A number of elements were disappointing, particularly because they could have been avoided easily if the design team had worked with a seasoned exhibition professional. In one display, for example, about the transport device called a Segway, hasty do not touch signs were accompanied by cheap and cheerful brackets and bolts clamping the vehicles to their platforms. Too bad the designers hadnt foreseen how tempting these devices would be for visitorsand how clear it was that they wanted to try them out. In another room, the cacophony of talking heads was more than most visitors could bear, and the room was relatively empty the whole time I was there.
In retrospect, what I found most interesting was that visitors were engaged in all sorts of conversation. The exhibition took a strong point of view, with declarative statements throughout that got us all thinking. And we, most of us strangers to each other, ended up sharing our questions and ideas over a glass of juice in the cafe.