As Kevin mentioned in his last post, Connecting Cultures is presented in thematic sections: Places, People, and Things, in addition to an Introductory Center. Since the artwork was curated cross-collection, the question for me as a designer was how to visually unify artworks that spanned 5 millenia, and were products of so many unique artistic practices from around the world.
The easy solution would have been to choose one color for each section, but since the room is 24-feet high, and most of the art is under 4-feet tall, that would have left a lot of empty visual space, even after double-hanging. And so I began to explore the idea of using over-sized murals as backgrounds, and asking myself questions like, “what is something visual that connects all of these works together?” Immediate answers for the place section for example would be to use the weather or landscape. I even thought about things like seismographs or lightning, which are universal experiences. Then, I moved to think about what structures, or frameworks, could hold each group together. I began to think map, and then met with the Museum’s librarian Deirdre Lawrence who showed me our 1680 Sanson Atlas, and its beautiful world map. Taken to greyscale, and then with a white-to-transparent overlay, the Sanson map clearly indicated Place and gave the artwork installed on top of it an instant cohesion; the greyscale then allowed the artworks’ color to pop forward.
I then extended this idea of structure and greyscale to the other sections. One common framework of all people is the skeletal system, and so I worked with a skeleton drawing by Daniel Hungtinton from our American collection. Skeletons and anatomy also being one of the first subjects you draw as an art student. For Things, I met with the planning department, and paged through decades of old blueprints produced for the Museum. A drawing of one of the Museum’s staircases from 1954 by Brown, Lawford & Forbes, became the background for a display of historical and contemporary mirrors.
And last, was the question of what to use as an “entrance” for an installation about new ways of looking at out collection. Our common structure for looking is the eye, and in our Egyptian collection we have a life-size eye made 3,500 years ago, from Obsidian, limestone and blue glass. This 2 1/4″ eye was photographed in HD by Karl Rudisill from Duggal, in 6 parts, re-assembled into an 18GB file, and then enlarged to 19′ wide at 1,000% enlargment, without pixellation. A miracle of photography.
Together, these monumental murals form a dramatic set of indicators that provides unity for all of the places, people and things that artists in our Permanent Collection, have created as records of our amazing world . . . A world in Brooklyn.