Historical exhibitions maintain a difficult balance between serving an archival purpose and presenting an aesthetic experience. The prior requires a lot of reading in addition to viewing an artwork, an artwork that in many cases of contemporary art are ephemeral (Marina Abramovic), in the process of deterioration (almost every video made by an artist in the 1960s), or were never meant to be viewed as a sensate object (Fluxus newsletters). Stated generally, “experience” is expected from many contemporary art exhibitions where one wanders with their eyes across a painted surface or with their entire body through a set of carefully placed objects. The curatorial problem is how to create both types of experience in an exhibition because, quite simply, a combination of the two methods – archival and aesthetic – disrupts each other when used in the same space. Do you want to go to a museum to read or to feel? When do you stop to gaze at a singular object and when do you quickly glance over the many paper objects contained within a vitrine?
Maybe this is a problem still in need of a solution or maybe it is a necessary antagonism that points to the historical framework inherent in any exhibition. However, if I only wanted to read about art, I could do it at home with a book.
Need an example of an exhibition that requires a lot of reading? Here you go: http://www.artistsspace.org/past-exhibitions/2010/26