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Permanent collection VS Temporary exhibition. It must have happened to everyone at least once in their life to walk the streets of our city and see the billboard advertising a new exhibition in our favorite museum. And if this exhibition tells us about an artist we love or about a movement we’ve been wanting to discover for some time, enthusiasm skyrockets. And the exhibition immediately enters the agenda. But why should a museum that already has its own permanent collection go to such lengths for us to organize a temporary exhibition that lasts only a few months? I’m Clelia and today we find out together. 

Permanent Collection VS Temporary Exhibition | The aims of the Museum

To understand the background of the organization of a museum’s permanent collection versus that of a temporary exhibition, we need to take a step back for a moment. And we need to review the museum’s goals together. 

In August 2007 in Vienna, the International Council of Museums called ICOM (of which I am a member in my own small way) adopted a definition of museum which considers and includes among the various purposes of this institution also that of exhibiting one’s own collection. 

According to ICOM, a museum is in fact “a permanent, non-profit institution at the service of society and its development, open to the public, which carries out research on the tangible and intangible testimonies of man and his environment, the acquires, conserves, and communicates them and specifically DISPLAYS for purposes of study, education and pleasure”

If you want, one day we can try to understand together what all this means. And find out why it’s so important first of all for us who visit museums and then also for those who work there. Today, however, what interests us the most is the fact that one of the main official purposes that every museum in the world must have is the display of one’s works. Therefore, when we visit a museum, what we are going to discover will be its collection through a path designed and organized by a curator. 

The museum’s permanent collection

This is also one of the reasons why a museum is a physical place. A museum needs to acquire new assets through donations, deposits, bequests, free loans. If you increase your assets, you have new elements to progress in your research. There are also new opportunities to make us visitors come back to see something we didn’t know. And also there is the possibility of increasing the cultural value of the discovery.

The permanent collection is therefore without a doubt the permanent exhibition of the museum’s works. Permanent does not necessarily mean that it always remains the same. Permanent because it is made with works that are owned by the museum or on loan for a long period, sometimes even decades. So returning to a museum after 2-3 years we will probably find the same Monet or Rothko that we had seen some time before in its exhibition itinerary of the permanent collection. But the permanent collection can also change slightly. The Tate Modern here in London, for example, varies its path a bit and offers new works from its collection every 6-9 months. 

Temporary exhibitions | Why are they organised?

But if both large and small museums have their own collections and all the commitments that derive from them (organization of activities, safeguarding, valorisation of the works) why also engage in temporary exhibitions that last only a few months?

The reason is WE who visit the exhibitions. In fact, many museums today are unable to simultaneously exhibit and enhance all the works they have in their collection. Some, like the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, have real vaults full of stupendous works that risk seeing the light very rarely. 

  1. So reason number 1 is to continue their aims of exhibiting and enhancing the works. 
  2. The second main reason is to attract new audiences or keep your audience coming back. As much as we like a museum, it’s unlikely that we will return more than once every 2-3 months to the same place. Indeed it is almost impossible, because we all have the need and the desire to always discover something new. 

Therefore, to facilitate our return to the museum or to move between museums in the same area, temporary exhibitions are organised. These make us return with cumulative tickets, sometimes they give us the opportunity to review what we love most together with something new. 

Furthermore, temporary exhibitions are a great reason for scholars to focus their attention on a single artist or movement. And for us to focus our attention on discovery. For a curator or a group of researchers, organizing an exhibition that has a sensible, interesting and captivating itinerary is really complex. Perhaps conceptually more complex than finding funds, moving the works from all over the world or organizing related activities and materials. In my experience, the way you organize the itinerary and guide the visitor is the basis of the entire exhibition.

Temporary exhibitions | Typologies

For this there are various types of temporary exhibitions. These can be linked to a single artist and in this case they are in turn divided into:

  1. anthologies which show some of his main works from the beginning to the end of his career
  2. thematic which exhibit all the works created by a single artist but linked to a specific theme. 

Then there are the collective linked to

  1. a single artistic movement (in which works of similar or previous or subsequent movements in history can be included to tell the influence and importance of the main movement). 
  2. collective temporary exhibitions thematic. They tackle a generic theme and exhibit throughout the history of art or over 100 years how that theme has been addressed. In these cases, extracts from poetry, philosophy or other arts are often associated with works of art. 

Permanent Collection VS Temporary Exhibition | Differences

The main differences therefore between permanent and temporary exhibitions are:

  1. the duration of the exhibition
  2. the ownership of the exhibited works
  3. the theme of the itinerary that will guide us
  4. the setting up which for temporary exhibitions is more immersive than for permanent ones.

So, having understood what a temporary and a permanent exhibition are, let’s see what the main advantages are for us. Take for example the Olafur Eliasson exhibition at the Tate Modern in London last year. I told you about it here on the blog and it has attracted thousands of visitors from all over the world. 

Example of temporary exhibition | Eliasson In real life

The organization of the exhibition and the setting up

In this case the organization of the exhibition is by two museums that have brought together funds, curators and general management. They are the Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. In fact, the exhibition is currently underway in Bilbao in one of my favorite museums ever. 

The choice from the curatorial point of view was to create an anthological but not a chronological exhibition. Non-chronological means that the exhibited works were not in chronological order from the oldest to the most modern. To help the visitor understand the motivations behind the creation of Eliasson’s works, a path has been created which is suggested by the museum but which is not mandatory.

Furthermore, due to the fact that several works are large or require isolated spaces, fake rooms and walls were complete autonomy Beauty from 1993 or the highly discussed Your blind passenger from 2010 

exhibitedteam it was also possible to bring models and study materials that belong to theEliasson Archive. This allows us visitors to better understand the background of the work and the motivations behind some of the works on display. 

The characteristics of the exhibition

Then another choice that has been spreading more and more for years in temporary exhibitions is that of not locking up the artist’s works only in the halls of the paid exhibition. But also to give a taste of his works to those who cannot visit the exhibition or are not initially attracted to it. Scattered among some rooms of the Tate and outside, for example, 6 works by Eliasson have been set up. These could be seen by anyone there in the museum or out and about in the streets of that area of ​​London. 

And finally, another characteristic of the temporary exhibitions that support the permanent collection is that of creating free or paid ad hoc materials. In the case of Eliasson and many other exhibitions organized here in London at the Tate or the Royal Academy, these are brochures with a map of the route and an explanation of each room. I have a mini collection. And it’s always nice to pick up and read them even after weeks or months while out in the park or on the subway. 

Permanent Collection VS Temporary Exhibition | Conclusions

It will be clear from everything I’ve told you about my experience around temporary exhibitions and permanent collections throughout Europe that I never hold back when it comes to visiting one. But also that for me a coexistence of these two forms of exhibition is fundamental for a museum and is indeed one of the duties for research and for the development of the places we live and visit so often.

No doubt there are situations where temporary exhibitions attract us visitors with big names and staging, but if through staging a curator without exaggeration has reached just one more person in the museum and had a around who would never set foot what’s wrong with that? The world of art and works are for everyone and each of us experiences them in a personal way and at various levels. 

And if this post I suggest you check out my channel Youtube so you don’t miss my videos related to art history, travel and the market. Also I suggest you take a look at my posts Instagram on temporary exhibition by Eliasson

Thank you and see you next time! 

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