As Published: A Book about Architecture and Design Exhibitions


Location and Dates:
Art Institute of Chicago
September 12, 2017–February 25, 2018  

Zoë Ryan  

Exhibition Design:
Project Projects

As Seen: Exhibitions That Made Architecture and Design History
AIC/Yale University Press, 2017

Zoë Ryan

This exhibition celebrates the release of the Art Institute’s book, As Seen: Exhibitions that Made Architecture and Design History, one of the first publications to explore the influence of architecture and design exhibitions far after their closing dates. Exhibitions have long played a crucial role in defining disciplinary histories. They mark pivotal moments in time and document the environments in which new narratives and arguments unfold. Currently, the fields of architecture and design, spurred by a multitude of cross-cultural and global conversations, are opening up to new definitions, ways of working, and design and production processes. The volume highlights how exhibitions can help to both concretize and critique ongoing technological and cultural shifts.

Building on research that was exhibited in 2015 at the Art Institute, the book focuses on group exhibitions staged between 1956 and 2006, organized by a wide range of architecture and design professionals to reflect on then-current dilemmas and identify alternatives to prevailing practices. It includes essays by world-renowned curators, scholars, critics, and theorists.

As Seen emphasizes the critical role that display mechanisms play in architecture and design exhibitions, helping provide frames that bring the work alive. For example, the twentieth-century Austrian American artist and designer Herbert Bayer advocated for the importance of creating rich visual and physical relationships between viewers and works of art. He illustrated his ideas in diagrams such as the one from 1939 on display here, which shows the “inclusive picture of all possible viewpoints.” It depicts a room-size installation and how to bring the work closer to the viewer by designing the space to create a 360-degree immersive experience. The diagram inspired the book’s cover design and has been recreated here in three dimensions at full scale by Adam Michaels, Shannon Harvey, Siiri Tännler, and Yoon-Young Chai of Project Projects, the firm that designed the 2015 exhibition and the new book. The installation helps us further grasp Bayer’s claim that in order to create a rich visual and physical relationship between the viewer and the work of art, “the theme should not retain its distance from the spectator,  
it should be brought close to him, penetrate and leave an impression on him.”

The publication aims to vivify discussions about exhibitions of architecture and design. Its debut coincides with the reinstallation in gallery 285 of the Art Institute’s collection of modern and contemporary material  in these areas.