Cultural and Creative Arts

Exhibition and display techniques

An art exhibition is traditionally the space in which art objects (in the most general sense) meet an audience. The exhibit is universally understood to be for some temporary period unless, as is rarely true, it is stated to be a “permanent exhibition”. In American English, they may be called “exhibit”, “exposition” (the French word) or “show”. In UK English, they are always called “exhibitions” or “shows”, and an individual item in the show is an “exhibit”.

Such expositions may present pictures, drawings, video, sound, installation, performance, interactive art, new media art or sculptures by individual artists, groups of artists or collections of a specific form of art.

The art works may be presented in museums, art halls, art clubs or private art galleries, or at some place the principal business of which is not the display or sale of art, such as a coffeehouse. An important distinction is noted between those exhibits where some or all of the works are for sale, normally in private art galleries, and those where they are not. Sometimes the event is organized on a specific occasion, like a birthday, anniversary or commemoration.


There are different kinds of art exhibitions, in particular there is a distinction between commercial and non-commercial exhibitions. A commercial exhibition or trade fair is often referred to as an art fair that shows the work of artists or art dealers where participants generally have to pay a fee. A vanity gallery is an exhibition space of works in a gallery that charges the artist for use of the space. Temporary museum exhibitions typically display items from the museum’s own collection on a particular period, theme or topic, supplemented by loans from other collections, mostly those of other museums. They normally include no items for sale; they are distinguished from the museum’s permanent displays, and most large museums set aside a space for temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions in commercial galleries are often entirely made up of items that are for sale, but may be supplemented by other items that are not. Typically, the visitor has to pay (extra on top of the basic museum entrance cost) to enter a museum exhibition, but not a commercial one in a gallery. Retrospectives look back over the work of a single artist; other common types are individual expositions or “solo shows”, group expositions (collective exhibitions or “group shows”), or expositions on a specific theme or topic (“survey shows”). The Biennale is a large exhibition held every two years, often intending to gather together the best of international art; there are now many of these.

Exhibitions of new or recent art can be juried, invitational, or open.

  • Ajuried exhibition, such as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, the Chianciano Biennale at the Chianciano Museum of Art, or the Iowa Biennial, has an individual (or group) acting as judge of the submitted artworks, selecting which are to be shown. If prizes are to be awarded, the judge or panel of judges will usually select the prizewinners as well.
  • In an invitational exhibition, such as the Whitney Biennial, the organizer of the show asks certain artists to supply artworks and exhibits them.
  • An open or “non-juried” exhibition, such as the Kyoto Triennial,  allows anybody to enter artworks and shows them all. A type of exhibition that is usually non-juried is a mail art


There are two kinds of objects displayed at the library and archival exhibition – bound materials and unbound materials. Bound materials include books and pamphlets, and unbound materials include manuscripts, cards, drawings, and other two-dimensional items. The observance of proper display conditions will help minimize any potential physical damage. All items displayed must be adequately supported and secured.

Unbound materials

  • Unbound materials, usually single-sheet items, need to be attached securely to the mounts, unless matted or encapsulated. Metal fasteners, pins, screws, and thumbtacks should not come in direct contact with any exhibit items. Instead,photo corners, polyethylene, or polyester film straps may hold the object to the support. Objects may also be encapsulated in polyester film, though old and untreated acidic papers should be professionally deacidified before encapsulation. Avoid potential slippage during encapsulation – when possible, use ultrasonic or heat seals. For objects that need to be hung (and that may require more protection than lightweight polyester film), matting would be an effective alternative.
  • Objects in frames should be separated from harmful materials through matting, glazing, and backing layers. Matting, which consists of two pH-neutral or alkaline boards with a window cut in the top board to enable the object to be seen, can be used to support and enhance the display of single sheet or folded items. Backing layers of archival cardboard should be thick enough to protect objects. Moreover, any protective glazing used should never come in direct contact with objects. Frames should be well-sealed and hung securely, allowing a space for air circulation between the frame and the wall.
  • Bound materials

The most common way to display bound materials is closed and lying horizontally. If a volume is shown open, the object should be open only as much as its binding allows. Common practice is to open volumes at an angle no greater than 135°. There are some types of equipment that help support volumes as they displayed openly: blocks or wedges, which hold a book cover to reduce stain at the book hinge; cradles, which support bound volumes as they lay open without stress to the binding structure; and polyester film strips, which help to secure open leaves. Text block supports are best used in conjunction with book cradles where the text block is greater than 1/2 inch, or where the text block noticeably sags. Regardless of its method of support, however, it is worth noting that any book that is kept open for long periods can cause damage. One should turn an exhibited book’s pages every few days in order to protect pages from overexposure to light and spread any strain on the binding structure.


  • Because exhibited items are often of special interest, they demand a high level of security to reduce the risk of loss from theft or vandalism. Exhibition cases should be securely locked. In addition, cases may be glazed with a material that hinders penetration and that when broken does not risk shards of glass falling on the exhibits. Whenever possible, the exhibition area should be patrolled; a 24-hour security presence is recommended when precious treasures are exhibited. Finally, the exhibition is best protected when equipped with intruder alarms, which can be fitted at entry points to the building and internal areas.

Click here to ask a question and get an answer published in the forum. Read our disclaimer.

Get paid for every topic you create in: Forum!MAKE-MONEY

Discover more from StopLearn

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading