A New Year

Happy New Year!

A few thoughts to reflect upon at the inception of 2014, from The Way Beyond Art: The Work of Herbert Bayer (1947) by German museum director Alexander Dorner:

Modern exhibiting likewise becomes an integrating activity. Methods of exhibition are designed to express a mobile, energetic way of uniting life. They press more and more toward a kind of display which conveys to the visitor the world as a self-changing process. This means two things. First, the displayed object loses the character of being the material container of a timeless spiritual core. The displayed work of art is no longer a holy relic, containing the invisible charm of eternal truth or beauty in a visible changing form. It becomes a document of an historical process. Even the “deepest” experience speaking through a work of art is only an act of transformation of inherited ideas. Not THE idea of a picture but its power to change inherited ideas its new essence. This power interacts with our energy and transforms the relation between the work of art and us. It does not confirm any immutable value. What is true of the displayed work of art is also true of other symbols and images.

The new conception of the displayed object leads to the second change in the character of the exhibition. The exhibition itself ceases to be basically a self-contained, static condition and becomes more and more an aggressive energy seeking to transform the visitor. The visit is another energy, a different process of life. Both energies interact. The exhibition and the visitor no longer co-operate in erecting and confirming an immutable essence of life, but both are wholly historical processes. The exhibition is a temporary means for achieving a temporary result: the improvement and correction of traditional reality. The modern visitor does not want to be confirmed in one revealed immutable truth, or in the chaotic absolutism of ever-new and yet still eternal truths which are all equally true and necessarily result in mutual paralysis. He wants a suggestion for the improvement of the present ways of feeling and thinking. He wants to see the wrestling between obsolete and new forces, their wholly relative penetration. He wants to experience a process of transformation, not simply a new surface variation on a static ground.

What practical consequences has all this for the designing of exhibitions? The exhibitor will devise novel means of presenting his exhibits. He will introduce into exhibitions the same dynamism that is at work in the abstract composition and even more so in the modern realistic painting. The rigid distance will be pierced, together with the static relation between visitor and exhibition. The ubiquity and the immaterial interpenetration of images which characterize supraspatial composition will act here, too, and involve the visitor in an ubiquitous process of transformation. The exhibited object will be freed from the fetters of three-dimensionality; it will recover its suggestive character known to the magical world in a more primitive, purely sensual form. It will develop into a mental energy. A visit to such an exhibition should shake our last belief in notions of eternal changelessness.

Learn more about Dorner in my dissertation project, XHIBITOR: Transmedia Art Exhibitions from Bauhaus to Your House. A documentary film about Dorner, directed by Peter Frumkin, is currently in pre-production.

Header image: "City Whispers: Los Angeles" (1981), Ray K. Metzker