27Exhibition Histories and Futures: The Importance of Participation and Audiences

Beryl Graham

It is in the installation design of the first half of the twentieth century that the sources of such practices as viewer interactivity and site specificity, as well as multimedia, electronic and installation-based work, are to be found.

(Staniszewski 1998, xxiii)

Why are histories of exhibitions, rather than histories of art, of particular importance for new media art? As Mary Anne Staniszewski pointed out in 1998, the history of exhibition installations is one particularly badly served by art histories, to the point of being culturally “repressed.” She identifies several interconnected institutional methods and hierarchies that contribute to this historical void, among them a relegation of exhibition installation to low-status “design,” and a tradition of installation photographs—if they are published at all—being stylishly uncluttered by audiences (1998, xxi, xxiii). This chapter aims to address histories of both new media art exhibitions and non-new media exhibitions, involving installation art and site-specific art, and placing a particular emphasis on interactive and participatory art.

As Staniszewski states, installation-based and site-specific artwork share some concerns with multimedia artworks, because the exhibition is the artwork rather than a display of the artwork—an interactive installation, for example, does not fully exist as an artwork unless it is exhibited, and interacted ...

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