An exhibition can be about art in 20th century Asia or about the solar system or about the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Putting together an exhibition can be extremely complicated depending on the nature of an exhibition. If it is just a display of pieces of art that students choose then that is a lot different from an exhibition. Understand this article is an overview of exhibition making and thus the process can vary immensely. For the purpose of this article I will focus on museum exhibition and art galleries as these are the sort of exhibitions I am most familiar with from my work at museums and art.

To create an exhibition, the subject matter must be determined first and foremost. The exhibition’s topic will likely gain inspiration based on the reason where you are displaying an exhibition. If you work at a museum about the history of Denmark, for example, you will likely be putting together something about a certain part of Danish history. Another way which exhibition ideas come to be is a result of what already exists in a collection. For someone who has a large amount of Picasso paintings it makes sense that they may choose to make an exhibition specifically about Picasso.

That being said, often when exhibitions are being created, especially temporary ones, there are a lot of objects which need to be obtained from other sources. If you go to the La Caixa exhibition hall in Madrid right now you will see that they are currently having an exhibition about animals in ancient Egypt. La Caixa serves as an exhibition hall but does not own the items in this exhibition. They needed to ask permission to use, and bring over the artifacts from the Louvre. Even the Smithsonian will use objects from other museums in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s botany department there is a stump with labels of major events in US history. The stump had been used in an exhibition in the Smithsonian Museum of American History and while at the museum the labels were put on the stump as a visual of the distance between major events in American history.

When determining what artifacts will be exhibited it is usually necessary to whittle down the objects. The items are either from the stuff that you have on hand and/or from the connections which you have more stuff than can be exhibited. To determine what should be exhibited the amount of space available needs to be considered and how each object interconnects with one another or relate to the theme of the exhibit. If you have, for example, a painting made by a Moorish artist in the 1400s but the rest of the items you have are coins from northern Spain in the 1800s it would be hard to relate the moorish art to the rest of the exhibition.

When the items are chosen labels need to be made. The labels will vary in the amount of information that it will portray. Some items might only have the name of the object, creator (if applicable), age and location of origin however other pieces will have more detailed information such as the story of how the object was used, information about its owner or other pieces of information. Say there is an example of a spear head. The spear head may have an estimated age listed as well as location it was found. However, the information could also be expanded to talk about how the stone head was made, what it was used for and its historic importance. In addition to including information about a s specific item on display the items on display may not have detailed individual descriptions but instead a single description to discuss what is overall being presented. If there are a series of stamps on display a description might discuss the use of stamps in general which would be quite different than if each stamps story was explored separately.

When putting together an exhibition it should be physically appealing as well. This means that there can’t be too much stuff and that there are often things outside of the objects themselves that should be considered. In the 1800s a red wall was considered the standard for exhibition space as it was considered to be a neutral color. Today this has changed to be white walls but that does not mean that other colored walls are not suitable in fact, additional images on walls can also be useful in an exhibition . If the exhibition is whale bones the walls can be covered with images of whales . In addition, statues of whales could be erected in the exhibition to help with the presentation of information.

Things which can be directly interacted with can also be very useful in exhibitions so that people can learn. When I was in Japan I went to an exhibition about seaweed and they had the “shoes” that people would use to gather seaweed that you could stand on which allows you to have a more intimate experience with the information. For such items they can on occasion be asked from others or there might be an item in the collection that can be touched and interacted with without concern about damage. Otherwise the item need to be created. Depending on what kind of item is being created a specialist might need to come in to determine how to make the desired item.
When the exhibition is near completion the exhibition advertisement is likely to occur. An opening event, posters, website listing and other forms of advertisement may be used. Without such advertisement there will be people that would be interested in the exhibition that will be unaware of its existence.

This is only meant to give an general idea of the process of making an exhibition. The process will vary from exhibition to exhibition but this is the general outline.