The Art of Installation

The Art of Installation

Four photos; of two museum preparators installing three Duane Hanson figures. The three Hanson sculptures, with their sawhorses and scaffolding are stationary, but the photos, taken from different angles, create an illusion of movement. The only changing elements are the two museum preparators at work.

Artist Sharon Lockhart staged this photoshoot during the installation of Hanson’s Lunch Break, 1989 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2002. She describes it as a “synchronicity: the physicality and tools of labor, the interest of two artists in the beauty of the ordinary people, and the potential for artifice to expose a hidden layer of truth”.

Hanson is the first artist, honoring the routine activities of everyday people through his life-like figures, and Lockhart is the second artist, immersing herself in the culture of her subjects, exploring the relationship between person, place and work. The formally posed aspect of this “set up” is amusing, poignant and sad at the same time. I wish I had a photograph of the preparators installing these 4 photos at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, where I encountered this exhibit, Lunch Break Installation, Duane Hanson: Sculptures of Life, 14 December 2002—February 2003, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. That would add another layer to the riddle.

Museum preparators often find themselves in surreal situations during the process of exhibition installation, which is a performance art in its own right. It has theatrical value with its improvisational problem solving, and could be revealed more often or documented in creative ways. Museum staff are ordinary people, but they work in a veiled and mysterious world between content and visitor. They are completely immersed in the content and physical space, and deeply invested in the visitor experience. For all museum experts, this presents a paradox something like “zen and the beginner’s mind.” Knowing too much can prevent them from experiencing the exhibition in the innocent way a visitor does, and it’s an illusive challenge to maintain “visitor’s mind.”


Editor’s Note: The DESIGN TO GO blog is wonderful, you’ll get lost in the photo essays! Thank you for this contribution Diane. All photos courtesy of Diane Burk.



Diane Burk

I'm a seasoned award-winning museum design professional with more than 30 years experience as Graphic Designer/Art Director at the Exploratorium. With an expertise in interactive exhibits, my work includes exhibition and event design, identity and systems design, visitor research, and art direction. As a visitor/user-centric designer, I've collaborated closely with exhibit developers, curators, scientists, artists, and content experts. As an art director I've hosted an ongoing design forum to promote mentoring, inspiration, critical thinking and collaboration in my design department. I recently returned from a yearlong around the world Design Sabbatical, exploring all the ways that communication arts intersect with real environments and direct experience. See my blog "Design to Go". As an artist I practice collage as an alternative way to explore the relationship between word and image. To keep my sanity, I play accordion and I'm a Taoist Tai Chi instructor.

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