2003 "Editing the Image: Museums and the Web," presented at the University of Toronto.

Editing the Image: Two On-Site /Online Exhibitions

Reesa Greenberg©

Presented at Editing (Out) the Image, University of Toronto, November 8, 2003.

The amount of free information easily available through the internet has altered user expectations of public domains, both on and off line. What is generally referred to as the explosion of the web has put increasing pressures on museums to recreate themselves in cyber and real space. The result is a recalibration of the split personality of Western museums which, traditionally, construct their public image in terms of the aura of the collection rather than information and education or research.

In this essay, I want to assess how two temporary exhibitions, both in their in- situ and online manifestations, negotiate [or edit] the interplay between exhibiting an art object as information and displaying the art work as an icon. Both are research exhibitions, which, by definition, involve the presentation of artwork with information yet both find ways, on and offline, of maintaining the artwork's auratic status. A second theme is a plea for museums to include installation photographs in their web archives so images of exhibitions are not edited out of the writing of exhibition histories.

Installing an exhibition can be described as a form of editing images. Placing the art object in space, designing its surround, ordering the sequence in which it is encountered, adding supplemental material, all are choices that contribute to the experience and interpretation of an exhibition and the construction of a museum's identity. An easy way of assessing the differences between how museums edit images on site and on a web-site is to look at exhibitions based on a single artwork.

In Frida Kahlo's Intimate Family Picture, on view at the Jewish Museum in New York from September 5, 2003 until January 4, 2004, guest curator Gannit Ankori used Kahlo's 1936 painting My Grandparents, My Parents and I (Family Tree) as a vehicle to explore "Kahlo's hybrid identity as the offspring of a multicultural and interracial marriage." The painting itself is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York where it is usually exhibited as part of the permanent collection, displayed with other Kahlo paintings, or those of Mexican or women avant-garde artists. At the Jewish Museum, in this temporary exhibition, a different editing concept is used: Kahlo's German-Jewish roots become the linking principle for an ethnographic analysis of My Grandparents, My Parents and I, both in the museum and the online exhibition.

The museum exhibition is divided into two relatively small rooms, spatially separating, or editing, support material from artwork [i] . The background documents in the first gallery include photographs, reproductions of artworks, books, and text panels, divided into themes such as The Drawing, Paternal Grandparents, Nazi Genealogical Tree, Rousseau, and Casa Azul. Exhibition materials are placed in a wide, white zone running along the middle of the walls in green-grey painted rooms. In the larger information gallery, the white band sets up a scroll analogy and a linear reading mode enhancing the sense that what is on display is linked data.

In the adjacent room, accessible only from the information gallery, the white grounds behind Kahlo's My Grandparents, My Parents and I (Family Tree) and the drawing for it function differently: the light surround frames the artworks and expands their "aura", focussing attention on what are small objects (the painting is 12 1/8 x 13 5/8" (30.7 x 34.5 cm) that otherwise would have been lost on such a large wall. The effect is enhanced by spot lighting the artworks. Even the possibility of reading the white grounds behind the artworks as analogous to a page and the artworks as worthy of being illustrated in art books does not reduce them to information.

Editing the presentation results in edited or transformed perceptions of the painting. The temporal delay before actually seeing Kahlo's work enhances anticipation (for some, frustration), creates a narrative structure to the exhibition and adds an element of theatricality to the presentation. Spatially isolating and reframing the painting removes it from the realm of document, enhances the artwork's status as cultural icon, and encourages a contemplative response rather than an inquisitive or intellectual exploration.

The web exhibition (

begins as many real exhibitions do with an unillustrated curator's statement at the entry point [ii] . On all subsequent pages on the site, some form of image of Kahlo's painting is integral to the presentation. In the web version, the image is an entry point rather than a destination. According to Emily Hartzell, asst. curator for web-projects at the Jewish Museum, and co-designer of the on-line feature [iii] , Kahlo's painting was used as the interface for the virtual version, an "intuitive" approach that fit with an examination of the symbolism of a single artwork and its geneological content [iv] .

Image as interface elicits a different editing approach than image as icon. Simultaneity replaces sequence. Rhizome replaces linear narrative. How is this done? Rollover, hypertext and design. On the Kahlo site, the entry screen is divided into various zones or registers. At the top, there is a schematic drawing of the painting accompanied by a legend instructing us to move the mouse over details of the reproduction of the painting positioned below. When we do so, other images appear in the empty, small square or tabula rasa to the right of the reproduction of the painting and large coloured text appears beneath it. The square functions as an intermediary between the web image of the painting and, to the right of the screen, a text template with a list of ten themes and two resource items on a bright red ground. Similarly, when we move the mouse over the text template, images appear in the square and large text below. But only momentarily, because if we keep moving the mouse, the rollover is rapid.

Rollover, in the words of Sean Cubitt "generates possibility... that dialectical moment in which becoming other is key." [v] In the dynamic visual introduction to the Jewish Museum's web presentation of Kahlo's painting information and ideas are in flux, literally suggesting the mobility of thought, the transformation of concepts, the sense of life or animus in intellectual work, the possibility of something becoming other. As a visual model for envisioning the writing of art history, the rollovers embody the opposite of a single, authoritative text or image and the temporality associated with interpretation. The rapidity and number of the rollovers on the Kahlo site act as a spur to consider others. The rollover, especially as used here, signals multiple readings, a trait particularly suited to a reinterpretation of an artwork recording the mixed cultural background of the artist.

In the museum exhibition of My Grandparents, My Parents and I (Family Tree), the supporting material is also multi-focal but it is spread along the walls in a static, closed presentation surrounding the viewer. The impression is research rather than revelation. On the website, when users go beyond the rollovers, the design of individual pages may be as fixed as the wall arrangements but there is a greater sense of agency. Users see what is available in the index and choose the amount and order of the information they wish to see. Layering information behind the viewer's screen suggests a more open structure rather than a fait accompli. Building on archeological and psychological metaphors, layering information suggests depth rather than surface, focus rather than panorama, the possibility of more rather than a closed construct. Layers of hypertext also allow a non-linear, aleatory approach to knowledge. Segments can be accessed in random order, in part or in all, in single or repeat visits.

The presence of the schematic rendering of Kahlo's My Grandparents, My Parents and I (Family Tree) at the top of each theme page is very similar to devices used to facilitate identification of sitters in group photographs [vi] . Here, the schema is a visual reminder that all the support material below links to the painting. Creating an iconic sign for the artwork posits the image as a take-off point or working model for research: it is an outline waiting to be filled in, not a reproduction of an icon. At the same time, the stylized rendering of the painting relates to computer icons and their cuing function as links to additional images or information. By contrast, an artwork as an icon in the traditional sense is always self-contained. The use of the ghost-like drawing of Kahlo's painting also alludes to the host role of the Jewish Museum which, in this instance, cannot construct its online image in the aura of a painting that is not in its collection.

The in-situ and online versions of Frida Kahlo's Intimate Family Picture are complementary rather than mirrored exhibitions. Each exists as an independent entity. The web version is neither promotion nor archive but a creative interpretation and presentation of material used in the actual exhibition. The Jewish Museum has retained the virtual version on its site giving the exhibition a life independent of the dates of the museum presentation. In the current web version, however, the visual appearance of the in-situ installation has been edited out. Unless installation photographs are added somewhere on the Jewish Museum's website, all trace of the on-site exhibition will disappear from the public domain, leaving us with an edited history of what were complementary but very different presentations.

The visual life of exhibitions in images has always been difficult to access. Installation photographs exist but, until the recent interest in the history of exhibitions, were rarely published in art history texts. Before, during and after its duration, an exhibition tends to be represented by an iconic artwork rather than an installation view. The same is true of the exhibition web archives of most museums. Usually, there is a text description, often a scanned press release or a list of works; sometimes a photograph of the artist or an artwork in the exhibition; occasionally images of all the works; and, rarely, an installation photograph or a few, let alone full coverage or a video mapping the sight-lines.

Why does the exclusion of installation photographs in exhibition archives matter? Quite simply, without them, the history of exhibitions as part of the history of art becomes harder to establish and elements of visual and popular culture get lost. Without easily available installation photographs, building and interpreting histories of exhibition installation is made unnecessarily difficult, overly dependent on the ability to travel extensively, memory, and privileged access to a museum's archives. One reason the history of exhibitions remains rudimentary and exclusionary is because, without access to images of exhibitions, researchers cannot establish links between them.

At the risk of being anecdotal, here is a small example. In the Jewish Museum, Frida Kahlo's Intimate Family Picture is introduced with a banner printed with an enlarged reproduction of a black and white photograph of Kahlo seated, painting the portrait of her father that figures in the exhibition. The banner is suspended from the ceiling and hovers above the floor. It is white and much larger than any of the other elements in the display. In the 1998 Royal Academy presentation of Charlotte Salomon: Life or Theatre?, the exhibition was introduced with a freestanding white bunker wall with an enlarged black and white photograph of Charlotte Salomon seated in front of the landscape she is painting [vii] . To my knowledge, neither image has been published.

A comparison of the installation photographs of the entrances to the Kahlo and Salomon exhibitions suggests the obvious: there are marked formal similarities. What is of interest is the use of an installation device in both exhibitions that confronts visitors with an enormous image of a working-woman artist. In their exhibition texts, the curators, Monica Bohm-Duchen and Norman Rosenthal for the Salomon exhibition and Gannit Ankori for the Kahlo, claim that each artist and her work have been misrepresented and under-rated. To counter these misconceptions, both Kahlo and Salomon are presented in heroic scale, almost as a form of visual compensation for the way women artists have been under-represented in art history. To see the artists' work, visitors must go around and behind the image of the working artist the curators portray. In this comparison, the existence of and access to installation photographs enables an iconographic reading of the design of recent feminist exhibitions, an under-written and under-theorized area of art history editing practices.

A second example demonstrates the importance of maintaining open, on-line access to web archives of installation photographs for, even if installation photographs exist online, there is no guarantee they will be there forever. In April 1997, the Centre Pompidou opened one of a number of exhibitions in French museums of art still unclaimed after World War II [viii] . The exhibitions were launched in conjunction with the Mattéoli Commission struck by the French Government in March of that year to reexamine the state of restitution. The Pompidou exhibition, Présentation des oeuvres récupérées après la Seconde Guerre mondial confiés à la garde du Musée nationale d'art moderne, contained thirty-eight modern works in the safe keeping of the Musées nationaux récupération (MNR) now under the care of the Centre Pompidou.

The curator of collections at the Pompidou, Didier Schulmann, used the exhibition as an opportunity to update research on the unclaimed works as well as to rethink the presentation mode of this type of exhibition, both in the museum and, rather unprecedently, on the web [ix] . Photographs of the exhibition convey the radicality of the installation. The museum utilized a unilinear hang with ample space between each work which was accompanied by a panel giving a detailed provenance and exhibition history as well as a description of inscriptions and labels. Where relevant, a photograph of the back of the canvas was positioned beside the painting.

Unlike the Kahlo exhibition at the Jewish Museum, documentary material was placed within close range of the artwork to form a visually related, highlighted, arrangement. Each painting and its documentation was treated as an island unto itself, with its only link to the others the fact that they too were stolen by Hitler and remained unclaimed. The halo effect created by spot-lighting each work indicates that the Centre Pompidou felt a need to convey the work's aura and, like the Jewish Museum, chose focused light as the vehicle to construct an iconic effect.

The distinctive Pompidou installation format served a number of purposes. First, the inclusion of visual and textual documentation ensured that the works were not presented in the treasure display genre used for earlier presentations of reclaimed art in Paris such as the triumphal Les Chefs-d'oeuvre des Collections Françaises Retrouvées en Allemagne par la Commission de Récuperation Artistique et les Services Alliés, at the Orangerie from June until November of 1946 which displayed the art in rooms lined with velvet wall hangings. By reformulating the art-as-treasure display genre for stolen art, the Pompidou assimilated the unclaimed art into its broad, postmodern, exhibition installation

Second, the use of curved walls as background and support for a display of art is striking. Usually, curved walls are found in diaromas or in science or anthropology displays. The allusions to a display genre associated with imparting information invoke an art museum role often downplayed in the public arena in the era of blockbuster exhibitions - the museum as an initiator in a scientific search for knowledge. The display of research in the exhibition conveyed that, even decades after the end of the war, the Centre Pompidou continued to make every effort to ascertain the identity of owners of the modern works in it's care [x] . Four works actually were restituted to heirs of their original owners as a result of new research undertaken in conjunction with the exhibition. In comparison with other European countries where some national museums, notably in Austria, contest claims for art with shakey provenance during the Nazi era in State collections, the Centre Pompidou could present itself as exemplary in initiating research and restitution.

Third, the use of the 1942 photograph of what is known as the "Salle des martyrs, the room at the Jeu de Paume where "degenerate" art stolen in France by the Nazis was displayed for them, on the catalogue cover and as a key image on the web site, demonstrated the difference between Nazi and post-war French presentations of modernist, avant-garde art, particularly as Fernand Léger's Femme en rouge et vert, 1914, figured in both displays. The Pompidou installation with its unusual, gently curved walls built to embrace and shelter the art on display graphically conveyed the care the French government, and especially the Centre Pompidou, continued to take of the unclaimed works of art in its possession.

This same care was seen in the elaborate website for the exhibition which included sections on the individual works, relevant texts, a chronology, press reviews and a full set of installation photographs ( [xi] There are a number of notable elements to such comprehensive coverage. First, in 1997, at the time of the exhibition, the web itself was relatively new and most art museums, even the Pompidou, were hesitant to allocate such extensive resources to ongoing, online presentations and documentation. Second, the MNR site is an early and rare example of both documenting the appearance of an entire temporary exhibition online and programming hyper-links to images of and detailed information about selected artworks when they are selected from the installation photograph. The online image of the MNR exhibition remains an anomaly, both within the Centre Pompidou online archives which rarely includes installation images and when compared to other exhibition archive websites, which, like the DIA Center, may provide a space for "images of the exhibition" within its archives but limits the number and provides no hyperlinks. Third, instead of choosing an installation format with all the views on a single page, each free floating, isolated in a grid, and requiring a click to enlarge (the standard snap to grid template for presenting many photographs online), a separate screen was used for each installation photograph.

The MNR exhibition installation photographs are arranged in sequence, seen one at a time, beginning at the entrance to the exhibition and continuing along the walls. They are seen at a pace determined by the user's mouse clicking, in an effort to document both the appearance of the installation and a viewer's experience of it in time and space [xii] . As comprehensive as the web coverage of the installation is, it is anachronistic. The MNR installation photographs are relatively small and black and white, more reminiscent of World War II photographs than contemporary photographic practices. The black and white palette can be seen as a distancing device relegating the genre of exhibitions of unrestituted art, and images of them, to the past and documentary evidence - in other words, information.

At the same time, the presence of coloured reproductions of each of the thirty-eight artworks in the exhibition found on the site and, in one path, reached through the black and white installation photographs suggests another dynamic is in play [xiii] . The suddenness with which the tiny black and white images of the artworks in the installation photographs expand and become coloured has a magical, transformational quality. The setting literally slips away and all that remains is the artwork, luminous thanks to the computer screen. On the Pompidou site, the hierarchy of small, black and white installation photographs and larger, coloured reproductions of artworks creates the information/icon split. Editing out the colour of context (the architectural surround) but editing in colour for reproductions of artworks ensures an image of the museum as custodian of an atemporal aura of the artworks in their collections [xiv] .

One last thought. We may live in the era of digital reproduction and manipulation but, just as in the era of mechanical reproduction, museums have managed to maintain the image of the art object as masterpiece. This ideological position edits out other images of the artwork, images of art as part of socio-political and economic frameworks and other art histories.

[i] The dimensions of the galleries are 27' x 16'-8" (Bloomberg) and 8'-10' x 16' Ð8' (Hurst).

[ii] The difference is that bypassing the web text is harder here than in real space as there is no quick way to skip it: users must scroll down the page to the bottom to continue.

[iii] The online feature was co-designed with the curator and Perimetre-Flux, designers of the 2002 Jewish Museum website.

[iv] Telephone conversation with the author, October 20, 2003.

[v] Visual and Audio-visual: from image to moving image, Journal of Visual Culture, Vol.1, No. 3, December 2002, 367. In the perspective of emergence, it generates possibility through its becoming at the point of its supercession, that dialectical moment in which becoming other is key."

[vi] My thanks to Joyce Zemans and Carol Zemel for pointing out the photographicsource of the device.

[vii] None of the other venues on the tour of Life or Theatre?, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, used the Royal Academy introductory format and, to date, as far as I know, no installation photographs of the entrances to the exhibitions have been published. I was allowed to photograph the Royal Academy exhibition for a conference presentation in conjunction with the exhibition, which explains why the image is in my possession Installation photographs of the Kahlo exhibition were sent to me over the web when I expressed interest in conjunction with research for this paper.

[viii] Exhibitions were held at the Louvre, Orsay, Versailles and S?vres.

[ix] The online presentation of the artworks in the exhibition and related research findings allowed viewers and possible claimants the opportunity to access the contents long after the exhibition closed. In 1954, an earlier semi-permanent display of unrestituted art was set up at the Chateau de Compiène outside Paris in the hopes that owners would recognize and claim their property. Viewers traveled to the exhibition. With the Pompidou web presentation, thanks to the internet, the exhibition rather than visitors travel and the potential for more people to see and study images of the unclaimed art over a longer period of time is exponential.

[x] Didier Schulmann. Private communication.

[xi] The path to finding the exhibition is as follows: after accessing the home page, click on archives in the left list and choose the dates 1995-97, then scroll down until the MNR exhibition appears. A cautionary note: the archive is usually accessible only on the French language site.

[xii] My thanks to Karen Stanworth for pointing out the importance of the effects of the sequence. For a discussion of the importance of conveying the exhibition route and layout on the web, see Elitza Dulguerova, L'Exposition et la Fantique,

[xiii] A similar device is used in the 1996 A Passion for Art: Renoir, Cézanne and Dr. Barnes documenting the Barnes Foundation Galleries. Here though, unlike the Pompidou which used separate black and white photographs for the installation shots and colour for reproductions of artwork, a composite style with coloured artwork seen in a black and white gallery was used. The result makes no pretence of verisimilitude. The CD was reissued in 2003. My thanks to David Carrier for bring the CD Rom to my attention.