Session 13

Professor Lena Liepe / Art History and Visual Studies, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden
Professor Helene Illeris / Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts, University of Agder, Norway


Showing not telling. Art institutional practices of inclusions/exclusions


Now is a turbulent age: established values and beliefs are challenged by societal changes on a global scale that affect people in their daily lives. The “times of crisis” of the CFP concerns much more than the future of art history: for many, the present upheavals give rise to an existential sense of loss of meaning and direction at large. The production, study and communication of art takes place in the midst of this vortex. The question is if, and how, art education can take its responsibility vis-à-vis a public that looks to art for ways of understanding the world.

Seizing on the “no title” heading, the session focuses on strategies by which meaning is ascribed to works of art in an exhibition setting, and in particular the implications of declining to encourage/govern/control the beholder’s understanding by the use of labels/titles. The absence of labels/titles can be deemed as either exclusive or inclusive: as a denial of access to meaning to all but experts and connoisseurs, or as a way to emancipate the common public by allowing everyone to create meaning unfettered by pre-set formulas. When artefacts from non-Western cultures are exhibited without accompanying texts, the curatorial choice can be criticized as an erasure of the identity of the original makers/users, or endorsed as a celebration of the objects’ aesthetic appeal across time and space. The removal of labels can function as a cover-up strategy to avoid controversy, especially in cases when once commonplace concepts are no longer politically correct.

Given a wider scope, not only labels but all kinds of exhibition related texts are up for critical consideration, from information sheets to catalogue essays and web texts. Using approaches based in normative critique and gender theory, questions concerning the manner in which the reader is addressed in the communication situation may be raised, not only with regard to the textual content, but also to the visual packaging. The role of the Internet as an exhibition arena and a medium for art education calls for investigation. The possibilities opened by conveying art online are potentially infinite: but are there drawbacks?

We welcome papers on:

  • Historical practices of showing and (not) telling
  • Aestheticization vs. contextualization
  • Untitled artworks and art educational strategies
  • The responsibility for making art speak
  • Blotting-out of meaning
  • Looking critically at exhibition texts and catalogue essays