March 31, 2015 by Alexandra Troxell
In looking at online exhibitions to compare, I chose two art exhibitions to look at how they presented similar mediums in the online format. The first exhibition, mentioned in the text, was Frontier Photographer : Edward S. Curtis, put together by the Smithsonian Institutions Libraries in 1999. The second was Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance, put together by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2010. There were some very interesting differences in the ways the materials were presented by these two notable institutions over a decade apart.
Both sites were created to accompany, or be longer-lived versions of, traditional exhibitions in the physicals museums. I think it is important to keep in mind that the online exhibition was likely not the original intended format for viewing the projects. In Frontier Photographer, the exhibition is structured in a way that leads you through different portions in a certain order- similar to the way curators plan exhibitions based on the way the visitors will move through the galleries. There were several introductory landing pages with quotes, images, and background information before you even got to see the different portions of the exhibition. This also illustrates the time period this exhibit was created in. The pages are fairly simple, hyperlink structured with continue buttons, and no easy menu navigation that we’re used to now. The exhibit contains a lot of historical information, as is fitting for the exhibition of historic photographs in a scholarly museum- it just comes with a lot of clicking.
Looking at the Haunted exhibition, is is also telling of its institution and time period. As an exhibition of contemporary artwork, and not history, the layout focuses on the imagery rather than the information. It was put together in flash or a similar software, so you have to navigate within the page not back and forth between multiple pages. It also feels more like an accompaniment to the physical exhibition- as though I was getting a preview or snippet of what was in the exhibition as opposed to a complete online exhibition in itself. I did appreciate that I could zoom in and examine works more closely, but at the same time it was difficult to really see how many works there were to view. There were only a few images on each screen, but when you clicked on one, there was a list of a dozen other artists. They connected different artists and works under multiple themes to make several connections and allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions as well- a variation from the Smithsonian exhibition that was a structured, factual, narrative without much room for interpretation on the part of the viewer.
Both exhibits were interesting, but neither felt like a truly great example of an online exhibition. I’m sure the physical exhibitions were given more funding, more effort, and generally more attention to be exceptional. Frontier Photographer felt like an in-depth, focused look at a specific period and body of work while Haunted felt like a wide survey comparing diverse works under a unifying theme.