Investigating the Immersive Environment: Trip to Spelman College

Today, we visited Spelman College Museum of Fine Art for our first class field trip. This gallery was super nice; celebrating its twentieth year, the gallery looks and feels like a real gallery opposed to a rundown college space which gains its charm mostly from its quirks. The space anticipates the different needs of the gallery and allows for different types of work to be displayed; a small room for video media is one example as well as swing out walls.

Currently on view is Mickalene Thomas: Mentors, Muses, and Celebrates which is a traveling exhibition of the work of Mickalene Thomas. This heavily media based exhibition was installed by Thomas’ own team, yet we were able to learn about the installation from one of the gallery’s preparators. This role is very hands on and similar to our installation process for Showing/Thinking; preparators work behind the scenes to prepare and hang the show, leaving no trace of their work.

For the current exhibit, a wall was constructed to accommodate several large monitors. Thomas’ work plays on the idea of the living room by setting up many areas with film and audio as well as staging seating in the center of each space. This is a very immersive environment; it is impossible not to engage. The dark reflective flooring submerges the viewer in media and asks that a viewer observe. Meanwhile, Thomas observes the viewer from cameras placed though out the gallery. This exhibition touches on ideas of spectatorship and how media influences culture.

We also learned more about curation during our talk with the Curator of Education. Holistically, a show is not dependent on a single work and the “precieved chaos” of certain displays, like salon style hanging, is the result of careful planning.

Unfortunately, we quickly ran out of time, but I had a few questions. I was curious about how a balance is struck between giving viewers information and allowing viewers to discover information on their own. Unlike Showing/Thinking, Spelman’s exhibition had an overview of the exhbit at the entrance and wall labels for every piece. Wall labels can be great for giving viewers content — such as the name or medium of the piece which contributes to the layers of meaning — but they can also serve as the only point of contact for the viewer. What is a gallery’s responsibility in providing information for the viewer? I feel that Showing/Thinking could have benefited from some more context simply because it assumes a single audience of informed viewers. Even as a part of the Agnes Scott community, Showing/Thinking can be unclear without the information  gained by putting together the show. Without talking with María or Casey, the significance of objects like the blue tape and lock picks, respectively, might be missed.

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