My trip to Lisbon has been to catch the exhibition Art on Display 1949-69 before it closes at the end of the month (it then transfers to Het Nieuwe Institut in Rotterdam, but not till July).
It’s based on the premise that the style of display adopted by the new Gulbenkian Museum when it opened in 1969 reflected a style of design and display pioneered in Italy in the 1950s, particularly since an influential advisor to the new museum, alongside Leslie Martin, was Franco Albini. This is quite an esoteric subject, but fascinating for those of us who are interested in how collections have been presented and hung in the past.
It starts with the work of Franca Helg and Franco Albini in the Palazzo Bianco in Genoa (I thought Carlo Scarpa was the pioneer). They went on to design an exhibition in São Paulo in 1954, presumably for Pietro Maria Bardi:-
Scarpa followed their example of taking pictures off the wall and often out of their frame and hung them on elaborately crafted easels:-
Meanwhile, Aldo van Eyck was encouraging the Cobra artists to be more adventurous in the ways in which they displayed art in the galleries of the Stedelijk Museum:-
The system of display used by Alison and Peter Smithson used for Lawrence Gowing’s exhibition Painting & Sculpture of a Decade 54-64 looks relatively tame by comparison, consisting of free-standing white walls standing entirely independently of their classical surroundings – what Alison Smithson called ‘The Milky Way’:-
Last of these pioneers in new systems of display was Lina Bo Bardi, whose husband, Pietro Maria Bardi, was the Director of MASP (the Art Museum of São Paulo). Her system of display in which paintings are hung on glass screens set in concrete blocks has been reconstructed (it inspired Piers Gough’s display of the early twentieth-century collection at the NPG:-
It’s a very good exhibition for the Gulbenkian to have organised to mark its fiftieth anniversary.