This panel is a cracking example of how to help make visitors feel more comfortable and confident exploring your exhibition.
Break it down, explain, equip with questions, don’t assume, keep it simple.
Not all visitors to art galleries are familiar with how to interpret art, or how to explore an exhibition. Galleries can be intimidating places, and that can be a barrier to pure simple enjoyment, let alone learning and engagement.
Offering visitors the information and basic tools to start interpreting art means you offer them choice - They can choose to use these tools, or choose to ignore them. Either way, visitors will know what they are choosing to do or not do, rather than feeling they are missing out or failing to grasp some magical art interpreting ability.
Some people do get fascinated by the frames rather than the paintings. See also:
Recently I visited a lot of venues over three days. At Westminster Abbey, Apsley House, HMS Belfast and the Churchill War Rooms we were given hand held audio guides which worked with varying degrees of success. We noticed that wherever they were being 'successfully' (extensively) used, they turned most visitors into zombies. My travelling companion made the observation in the cartoon above.
I know that audio guides are a good way to control visitor flow and visit times, ensuring people get an overview while also pushing them through sites at a suitable speed. They can provide a reliable service not always possible unless you employ a large pool of highly trained staff, such as language options, BSL on video screens, child friendly tours. They can be a flexible tool, such as at Apsley House, offering visitors a choice of tours depending on their specific interests. They allow historical venues to be free from obtrusive signs. From the visitor's point of view, their experience can also be enhanced by a good audio guide, with music, interviews from behind the scenes staff, and video clips.
However, using so many audio guides in a short time highlighted two - to me - unpleasant side effects. The first is how much people were attuned only to the audio guide, to the detriment of all else. The second was the isolation of the user.
Artist: "I loaned X for display, I'll be in the area on Y day so will pick it up then."
Staff: "Um...Y is over a month before the exhibition finishes, and when the loan was arranged you agreed to it being here until the end of the exhibition."
Artist:"Oh. Is it really that important for X to be on display?"
Hang on, I can work with this...
Staff: "...oh yes, people have loved it, the public are really surprised to see it and it's had a lot of positive comments."
Artist:"Perhaps it would be best to keep it on show until the end then..."
If your venue has ever installed a cabinet large enough to fit a human being in, you will probably be familiar with the urge to "try it on for size". It's the museum and art gallery staff equivalent to a cat having to sit in a cardboard box. You're not sure why, but that cabinet calls to something in your genes, and you want to know what your exhibited artifacts feel like when they're on that side of the glass.
Since managers don't always appreciate this vital part of the installation process, and may even take umbrage at something they signed off thousands of pounds on being used to raise staff morale, the sixth sense of middle-management is key in knowing when it's safe to show off the new cabinet.
Smarter venue management know that this stage of a large cabinet can sometimes be a great opportunity for your social media and website.
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