“In a world of pared back clean lines, who has time for ornament?” Matthew Martin and Ewan McEoin said in the text for the exhibition SO – IL: Viewing China at The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourn, Australia.
In museums and galleries across the world, exhibition design and architecture is increasingly embraced as a framing device to mediate or present historical subject matter, draw objects and artefacts into focus, or recontextualise the subject, so that audiences can engage with works in different ways. In this vein, Viewing China presents more than fifty white porcelain works from the NGV Collection within the vibrant architectural display designed by SO – IL. The audience is invited to view the china – and consider it afresh.
Through their display SO – IL sought to design, in their words: ‘an ideal contemporary three-dimensional setting in which to present porcelain such that it would challenge this prejudice (‘überkitsch-ness’) and focus attention on the great sculptural, artistic and technical strengths’.
This display strategy takes porcelain out of its normal display context, formally shown in locked glass cases, in out-of-the-way locations within the Gallery. By locating this work at the heart of the institution, flooded by daylight in the NGV’s central atrium, this exhibition seeks to prompt the visitor to literally ‘revisit’ their initial understanding of the objects. SO – IL’s vitrines do not merely display, but actually ‘dissect the conventional viewing of the object, [so that] visitors are forced to redefine their relationship to the work’.
The exhibition is open until 4 August.
Text: Matthew Martin and Ewan