Curating the Exhibit
While exhibitions vary wildly from one another, the curation process demands the same question each time: "What is the story being told here?" Exhibitions rarely have the benefit of an explicit narrative, often relying solely on visual materials to inform the viewer of the intellectual content. It therefore falls upon the curators—after intensive research—to determine how the physical arrangement of materials, in this case large paintings, should be organized to best tell the story. It is imperative that the research inform the decision making process. While a short introduction provides the viewer some basic historical context, the arrangement and physical layout of materials allows the works to inform one another, ultimately providing a complete experience for the patron.
The exhibition, Україна: Ukraine - The Maniichuk-Brady Collection of Socialist Realist Art, features art created by visual artists based out of the Ukraine, most of which were painted in the post-Stalin years before the fall of the Soviet Union. During this period, artists who were provided state funding were strongly encouraged to create positive depictions of soviet life i.e. propaganda. The Maniichuk-Brady collection features work that portrays a variety of subjects, from the working class (a common theme in socialist countries), to the military, and traditional subjects such as still life and portrait. For the exhibition, we chose to distinguish between the military theme and works depicting a romanticized existence under communist rule. At the gallery entrance, On the War Ruins and Model were featured side by side, the former being an idealized depiction of the military amid strife, while the latter is a classical nude of idealized beauty. The two paintings’ contrasting themes prepare the viewer for the division of the gallery space, one half dedicated primarily to images of military service and the other featuring landscapes, still lifes, and portraits.
A creative choice was made to suspend two of the paintings from the ceiling in front of two solid glass walls. Though unusual in a gallery or museum, the intention was to provide a 360-degree view of an oil on canvas, a medium typically viewed as a two dimensional object. It was a choice made out of the desire to allow patrons, the majority of whom are students, the opportunity to view the construction of a full canvas. The complete view affords the opportunity to observe the wood frame construction and the stretched fabric stapled to the frame. In this particular instance, the backside of the canvas also serves as a reminder of the paintings’ origin, as the details for each work (artist, title, date, dimensions) are listed in Cyrillic.