“It felt a little like being let into a secret–“ A community-influenced museum exhibition on Technical Art History

Jørgen Wadum, Frederik Knap, Anne Haack Christensen, Hannah Tempest, Berit Anne Larsen

Publikation: KonferencebidragPosterForskningpeer review


The research project Illuminated – Tracing Bosch and Bruegel as a community-influenced museum exhibition.
Over the course of three years an international team of interdisciplinary experts had examined four almost identical 16th-century paintings. The exhibition Illuminated – tracing Bosch and Bruegel revealed the surprising results of their studies. It offered a rare opportunity to gain insight into the sophisticated methods used to examine art.
The exhibition looked like a set-up for forensic detective work, but was in fact an exhibition about technical and art historical research into four Netherlandish paintings from the 16th century.
Instead of designing the exhibition based on our long experience as a national gallery, we collaborated with a group of twenty young volunteer art pilots from the Young People's Art Lab to design the show based on their interpretation and perception of the expert's examinations. Twenty art pilots spent six months exploring the conservators’ world, materials, techniques, and scientific equipment. The results of the research was translated into an exhibition created through collaboration between the art pilots, conservators, interaction designers, and art interpreters from the Gallery’s education services as well as invited external professionals such as an alternative theatre scenographer and a Russian film animator.
This made the scenography of the Copenhagen venue highly unique. We wanted the exhibition to appeal to visitors from all ages and backgrounds and the collaboration with the art pilots gave us a unique opportunity to target the museum’s younger visitors of ca.15-25 years old.
The Young People's Art Lab is a laboratory for art interpretation and a social community for young people, set up by SMK. The art pilots are volunteers who provide the Gallery with advice on how to target peer-to-peer education and communication activities aimed at young people.
The team produced a dynamic exhibition that invited visitors to explore the conservators’ workshops and methods: Infrared reflectography, x-ray imaging, microanalysis, and dendrochronology were fused with art-historical analysis, such as iconography and stylistic studies.
The exhibition was the first user-guided or community-influenced presentation at SMK. The process was beneficial to the volunteers and also highly challenging for staff at SMK, as we constantly had to let go of our pre-established thinking about how to stage exhibitions – and were instead forced into an even dialogue with our young users. As an inclusive museum, we found that this was extremely welcomed not only by our young visitors, the target group, but also by more mature museum visitors, who got captivated by this new and very sensitive form of presentation.
The notion of including our users in future exhibition projects became strengthened after this first trial, something that will be extremely beneficial in the future, and will bring the museum closer to our visitors.

”You got insights into processes that are not usually accessible to the public – and a chance to influence them. It felt a little like being let into a secret – into all the things that happen behind the scenes.”
- Karoline Krabbe, volunteer art pilot to SMK
StatusUdgivet - 2014