Book Review: What is Exhibition Design, by Jan Lorenc, Lee Skolnick & Craig Berger
Exhibits such as Bodies at the South Street Seaport and the Darwin Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History may be able to produce both wonder and horror, but not all visitors may realize the history of the discipline. that underlies them. What is exhibition design illuminates the course of history from popular cabinets of curiosities to the Renaissance, through reliquaries in churches, world fairs and department stores. The journey takes the reader to our current removable screens and offers a tour of the process behind their creation as well as vivid images of the results.
In the following sections, the issues and procedures inherent in creating our much more complex modern displays are discussed. While most of the task is explained verbally, it is supported by a few sketches and “process” materials. As seems typical of tsetse flies, however, What is exhibition design includes fewer of these images than the design community would like. The desire to have a perfect finished product prompts every designer to relentlessly tackle errors and witness marks until a product is perfect and unfathomable. Whether book publishers share this same compulsion or whether designers are just too insecure to publish process designs seems bound to remain a mystery.
The last section of the portfolios, however, comes across as a nice showcase for these fine results. The beautiful work is archived in a collection of vivid photos with accompanying text: The scale x-ray of a Pentagram plane (with workers and pilots) from the United hangar to Logan airport is a marvel . On a much smaller scale, Ralph Applebaum Associates’ work on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum evokes the bulk and density of a Renaissance cabinet in its corridor of photographs, which viscerally reminds the viewer of the unfathomable nature of this tragedy. . Finally, and perhaps most importantly for aspiring exhibition designers, the multi-layered work of companies like atelierbrückner shows just how great modern trade show environments can be. While trade shows remain the hidden workhorse of exhibition design and are only meant for a few weeks of life, museums last much longer and are always there for us to experience firsthand. Since the environment can always express much more than an image, I regret that I have only been to a few places described inside. Fortunately, the photos of the rest are enough to make any reader want to take a road trip.