The art of display must be a magic act
From “”Saker – om tingens synlighet” (Things – on the visibility of objects), by Peter Cornell
The art of display has to be a magic act – Ta-da! Look! It is a “big reveal”
that allows the objects to emerge from obscurity – the same things, yet not the same.
A museum is a miraculous zone of visibility. It is a place where objects are arranged in an exhibition, in French exposition, from the Latin expono, meaning to set forth, explain, place in front of someone’s eyes, expose, reveal. The English word exhibition comes from the Latin exhibeo, which has an equivalent spectrum of meanings: present, show, make visible, exhibit.
The objects in an exhibition are usually placed behind glass, a fundamental element in the laboratory of visibility. The items thus arouse wonder and amazement and undergo remarkable mutations; they are transformed from ordinary things into works of art. Everyday objects such as beer cans, washing powder boxes or sanitary ware suddenly capture our attention and reveal a new, latent meaning in addition to their obvious, practical one. It is no coincidence that museums have their roots in Wunderkammer, the cabinets of curiosities in which the princes of the Renaissance gathered all manner of incredible objects from far flung corners of the world. Arranging their finds in vitrines (from the French vitre, window) and cases (in Swedish monter from the French montrer, to show), they created cabinets for curiosities to be admired with childish wonder. As a zone of visibility, the museum encourages voracious, dedicated contemplation, but this is a seeing that is weakened or lost outside the magical space of the museum, where things then return to obscurity to serve as a tool in a practical context. When encountering the objects in the museum, a rich, nuanced language is at our disposal, but outside it we stand eternally dumb in the face of the everyday objects of the world in which we live, as if their form and presence were irrelevant and meaningless. However, through the gaze of the philosopher, the poet and the artist, or through the eyes of a child, things become visible again. They make the objects speak and make us speak about the objects, the waxed tablecloth, kitchen utensils, the clock, the staircase or a glass of water.