You are standing in a gigantic, white room. There are some steps echoing behind you, then silence returns. You catch the glance of your companion, then quickly shy away — not quickly enough, he clears his throat and asks: "So... do you like this artwork?". You two face a 4 meters long constellation made of driftwood, feathers, and dirty forks. You clear your throat too, it echoes. "It's very... sensitive." you say.
Your companion nods, and some seconds pass as you give every detail a stare. For how long is one supposed to look at an artwork? When will the Heureka moment come? Those who understand art, how do they do it? Before you find the answer, you two move on to the next piece.
If this story feels relateable for you, it's completely okay. Being asked what we think of an artwork is intimidating to say the least, it feels like the other person is testing you on multiple levels. How well did you pay attention during your highschool art classes? How quickly can you form an opinion? Once a friend of mine expressed that practically, every artwork is a Rorschach test, reflective of our own mind and psychology. Opening up about these things is an intimate procedure, let alone when we have to do it in front of another person.
One needs to address the fact that interaction with artworks can make people feel insecure: They might worry they are not competent enough, not educated enough, they might feel confused, and completely distance themselves from the topic saying "I'm just not an artsy person". Luckily, one doesn't need to be an artsy person to engage with art, being a person is completely enough.
The best gallery experiences I've had are all exceptional for the reason that they built up an atmosphere where the visitor feels safe to explore the exhibition. This means that they were given a context to put these artworks into, and provided a narrative that they can follow. Guiding the visitors through the works in a specific order can help them to take the associations they had of one work to the next, linking them together into a coherent thought. The experience doesn't need to abrubtly stop when we move on to the next piece: they might be five meters apart in the physical space, but they can easily stand closely together in the conceptual one. Also, not every exhibition space has to feel like a sterile, silent hall: modern curators consider transforming the space in a way that feels more organic for the artworks to be placed in. The best exhibitions are where neither the visitors nor the artworks feel out of place.
Actually, what is a natural place for an artwork? Most of the works spend the majority of their time away from public display (excluding the ones part of decades-long permanent shows). When they get exhibited, it's a special moment for them too, yet, they are never interviewed about their experiences. Maybe it's time it happened then? After all, only an artwork knows all the people who have ever seen it.
The creators, curators, critics — we can only speculate.
Exhibition experience from the viewpoint of Senster at the WRO Media Art Biennale.
"It was in the 1970's, when they built me for the first time. When feeling deeply nostalgic,
I remember the time when I was celebrated as the first robot sculpture controlled by computer. Ah, the amazement in people's eyes when I moved! I was truly sensational.
And here I am, fifty years later, and everything around me moves. I am nervous. Will they still appreciate me? Or will they take it for granted that no object stagnates anymore? I take a deep breath, after all, they must still look up to me — for my size, if for no other reason.
No, I mustn't worry. Being a three meters tall robotic animal that reacts to sound is still a title that evokes respect. All these fifty years of rest, I've been wondering about the contradictory nature of my existence: I was built for peaceful exhibition rooms, yet my only function is to react to harsh sounds. Maybe I was in fact ahead of my time? Could it be, that my time has just arrived?
BAMM! — the door opens, and I start to move."
Exhibition experience from the viewpoint of "Tales of Messenger"
at the Ludwig Múzeum.
"When the day started, and a sea of teenagers flooded the room, I felt confident. I knew that in this museum, they often host events for highschoolers, and who else could relate more to seemingly meaningless messenger conversations than them? Of course, one has to swallow a bit of dignity, when after a few seconds of ever critical gaze, they whisper: "Come on, I could paint this too". Of course they can, they "paint" the content on their phones everyday. They are art, their actions are a performance, their clumsy words are poetry, and I am just a manifestation. I am just a note that says, yes, this is valid. Mundane topics, everyday conversations, awkward encounters, they are just as much about humanity as a carefully worded piece of literature.
Of course, I am still just an object. Sometimes I wish I was a flashy screen, and get the attention of this group just a bit longer, so I could make them appreciate themselves a little more. One by one, they turn their faces back to their phones, and wander out of the room."
Exhibition experience from the viewpoint of "All these good things"
at the Tallinn Art Hall.
"Let's make something clear: I'm a print. I'm sorry if that makes it less cool for you, but yes, I have identical twins, they look pretty much the same. But let me tell you: We are all the good things.
I feel comfortable here, on this custom-made wallpaper, I don't shy away, when a bald man looks at me with a troubled expression. I know: he's contemplating whether I'm worthy of investment. I'm counting the seconds until he hits up his phone to do further research, and indeed, he does just that. Hah, how jealous my twins will be when I become the first to be sold!
He proceeds to read my description: I am an artwork about stereotypes, surface level understanding. I wonder if he knows that my creator got so deep into this topic, that he checks the bathrooms of nice buildings, to figure out whether they are only nice on a surface level... that's what I call field research!
But excuse me please, I was always the gossipy one from my series. Wish me luck instead, I might be taken home today.
Exhibition experience from the viewpoint of "One Direction"
at the Krakow Print Triennale.
"Weird situation, but I won the Grand Prix without most of the people even looking at me. In fact — they were looking everywhere else, in front of me! Of course, the reason for this is that I exist in another reality. People look at me through VR glasses, which means that practically speaking, they always experience me in the same way, no matter where I am exhibited at the moment. I've heard critics describe me with the word "interdisciplinary"... well, I wouldn't stop there! I love fancy words. I'd also describe myself as intergalactical, interconnecting, international, and interferometric. Yes, I admit, it's not completely clear to me what the last word means, but please don't put me under interrogation.
All in all, I feel proud because I could not only connect different realms, but different people as well. Some visited me because they were a big fan of technology, and some came because they are involved with arts. After putting on the VR glasses, they might have felt like they are there alone — but actually, they were there together.
Exhibition experience from the viewpoint of "La Fontana Machine"
at the Miskolc Graphics Triennale.
"Let me explain how I ended up being exhibited here, despite the fact that I was created by non-existent people.
To be fair: my creators existed, they just pretended to be someone else. I am the project of two student girls, who had a crazy idea to build an experimental printmaking machine, and submit it to an Open Call, pretending to be some 60-year-old men. They knew that the concept behind me is so surreal, that it might not be taken seriously, so they created personas who come off as more professional in the art world. I admit that it was needed, after all, I am a machine whose only purpose is to put holes on paper, inspired by the work of Lucio Fontana.
Still, my validity was questionable, so they had to find a solution. And what else can validate existence better than a Wikipedia page? So my creators published one, in case anybody googles their personas. The page was functional for four long years, and I think about it with nostalgia even now, that I lay in a storage room for the rest of my days.