The Museologist

Judging Exhibitions

Posted in Exhibitions, Texts by adevereux on December 23, 2009

I’ve recently been introduced to an exhibition interpretation/evaluation method called the Judging Exhibitions Framework tool.  It comes from Beverly Serrell’s book “Judging Exhibitions: A Framework for Assessing Excellence.”  In her book, she offers 4 criteria that are necessary for an “excellent” exhibition: it must be 1) Comfortable, 2) Engaging, 3) Reinforcing, and 4) Meaningful.  Ideally, the broad goal for educational museum exhibitions is free-choice learning on the part of the visitors.  The exhibition should get visitors to pay attention, spend time, become engaged, and be changed by the experience.

This peer review tool encourages professional museum practitioners to stand in a visitor’s shoes and evaluate a given exhibition.  The point of this tool is “to identify important characteristics of educational museum exhibitions and to assess the degree to which those traits are present in a given exhibition in a way that encourages and increase in those characteristics in future exhibitions.”

I question whether museum practitioners should be the ones conducting these evaluations.  Clearly, a museum professional does not represent the same mindset or knowledge of museum practices that a regular visitor to a museum would possess.  Also, I think the criteria are a bit obvious.  Is it comfortable: well does the gallery have benches to sit on? Is it engaging: does the material have any relevance to the everyday person? Is it reinforcing: does the exhibition make clear it’s message/narrative? Is it meaningful: see engaging.

Nonetheless, I think that these criteria are often missed in exhibitions.  It is not to say that curators should dumb down their shows, but too often an exhibit has no narrative, message, or relevance to an everyday audience.  I’d be interested in anyone’s comments on exhibitions that have met these criteria, or completely ignored them. Were these shows “excellent” under either circumstance or less than satisfying?

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