Curating an Imaginary Exhibition

Develop curatorial thinking skills

This is a year 1 or summer assignment that will help prepare students for Part 3, The Exhibition and for understnading what is a Curatorial Rationale. This could be a major assessed activity ( see Formative Assessment ) because it addresses so many elements of the Visual Arts Syllabus. Basically, it involves researching artists and selecting a virtual exhibition presentation of artworks that can relate to eachother.

Looking for a great summer assignment for incoming or mid IB Art students?

Help your students to be prepared with some potential thematic interests, a point of departure for Choosing Artworks to investigate for the CS.

Help you the teacher to better understand each students potential developing artistic interests and guide them in Finding a Focus - individual directions to explore in their own work.

You can find a similar version of this "Curating an imaginary exhibition" on page 141 of my text book Visual Arts for the IB Diploma

Themes can be any area of particular interest, such as Domesticity (shown here in these 2 photos from a thematic show at the McCoy gallery in NY).

This activity targets many key learning areas of the syllabus

  • Gain research skills
  • Develop a thematic interest
  • Understand curatorial issues
  • Develop writing and art vocabulary skills
  • Become more aware of connections across cultures
  • Create interesting and relevant journal content
  • Enhance the ideas underpinning studio work

For the student: The topic you choose should bear some relationship to your own interests in your studio work and current investigation. If you don’t yet have an idea of what interests you, this is an opportunity to discover more about what you value in art.

For the teacher: This is an activity that involves quite a bit of time. Give as a summer assignment or allow a period of several weeks, concurrent with studio work. Students will probabaly find it easier to make their own selection of art works later in year 1 when strong areas of interest have been identified already. If you introduce the activity very early on in the course you could provide students with a pre selected set of images to choose from but then they have less freedom in choosing their own artists.

The idea is to select works that relate to each other by addressing a common theme or connected themes. You can use art works from different cultures or time periods- this way you will also be learning about art history in a global sense and making your own connections across times and cultures.

How much guidance?

Selecting art works independently

Selecting works may be difficult for students without much prior knowledge of art. You may want to direct them to specific art databases like Art2day or a major art museum website such as The Met or the Tate rather than just allowing random google searches which will not assure quality of work. The page on  Finding Information on Artist  or  Web Resources for Art History have examples of databases you can refer your students to for images.

Pre selecting is an option

Teachers can distribute a set of images or work within a specific database of images and let students choose from these images to create a selection with a curatorial focus. Use a big collection of art postcards from a range of sources and cultural backgrounds.

Virtual Curating Activity

directly assign this lesson page (same content without the teacher notes) using student access

Lesson: Curating an Imaginary Exhibition

download or share this activity Curating an Imaginary Exhibition Find out what curating means.Look up an exhibition you have seen and liked and find out about the curator.

download activity notes Curating an Imaginary Exhibition 

include all of your reflections and research in the Visual Journal

Stage 1. Understanding curating

Find out what curating means.

Look up an exhibition you have seen and liked and find out about the curator.

Why is the role of the curator so important?

What kind of knowledge does a curator need?

Gather some preliminary information on your “ idea” ( books, internet, your teacher of course)

What artist's work already touches upon this?

Stage 2. Choosing a focus

Think about what really interests you, what sort of work and which artists you would like to include in your exhibition: Traditional, or more experimental? A mixture? Be sure to include a range of artists from different periods and cultures.

Tip: Look at what kind of shows are on at major museums to get a sense of the sort of themes that can be used effectively, or choose one from the list below.

examples of possible topics

  • Storytelling
  • Metamorphosis
  • Games and numbers
  • Home and displacement
  • Territories
  • Language and text
  • Censorship
  • Embodiment
  • Devotion

etc. the list is infinite....

SKY IS THE LIMIT: You are in the fortunate position of being able to include whatever art works you want, past and present, with no need to borrow or rent or ship them across the world as you would for a real exhibition. You have complete curatorial and financial carte blanche, hassle free!

Stage 3. Designing the Exhibition

include all of this in your journal or create digital journal pages

since the journal pages are used to select from when creating the digital presentation of the Process Portfolio, you could save time and design the virtual exhibition in a digital format. Then if you choose to use parts of it for the PP it is already formatted.

  • Find and print (or draw) images of all of the works you want to include in your show.
  • Write a blurb for each piece (short descriptive text).
  • Think about how they relate to each other, what are the connections?
  • Play with sequencing and relationships among the works- how would you organize this show so that you are directing the viewers experience?
  • Design the layout of the exhibition, you can even design your own building if you want or select a famous venue.
  • Give your exhibition a catchy title.

Stage 4. Write an introduction

as if you were writing the introduction to the exhibition catalog. In several paragraph, explain the concept behind the show, why you choose the works you did, the common themes, connections, and the different contexts the work comes from. Describe the exhibition concept, the space it is conceived for, and what the viewers role might be. This is excellent practice for the Curatorial Rationale

Stage 5. Make a presentation

Create a visual presentation with the work you have selected in the form of a slideshow, ppt, prezi, video, etc.that you will share with your class.

Stage 6. Studio Work

One more piece for the show, this one made by you. Except this isn’t virtual, its real, it’s your art work!

Example Virtual Exhibition

Lets say I want to curate a show that has as a common theme THE SKY ( I love the sky, clouds, weather, space so this is a fun one for me and I had just seen Richter's cloud paintings which inspired me). I've limited the exhibition to just 9 art works but I'm sure it could grow much bigger. It's important to have fun with this, and because its virtual there are no spatial or monetary constraints, I've even put the Pantheon in the show, after all, its virtual reality!

Exhibition Rationale

Your introduction (stage 4) can be a sort of mini Exhibition Rationale in which you justify your selection. Here are some notes that I would use to expand into a Curatorial Rationale, going into more depth about each piece in the show:

This exhibition is a collection of works that look towards the contemplative space of the sky.

It can be read on several levels; as the physical sky with its changing weather, as the mysterious, heavenly realms, and as an exploration of various material and conceptual approaches.

I wanted it to be an immersive experience so I’ve included works that surround and envelop the viewer as well as a range of more traditional, pictorial approaches to clouds and the sky.

Slideshow also available to download or show offline The Sky, a Thematic Virtual Exhibition

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