Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Gallery as an Art Piece Itself

We examined how the display and presentation in Art Gallery of Alberta influence people’s behavior and viewing habits. Viewers are more likely to get different feelings when they see art in a gallery, compared to seeing it on the street. The design of the space can affect people because it can create a mood through principles of architecture and can interact with the art in which it houses. This interaction can push an aspect of the art to the forefront, or it can be incorporated into the art. Viewers gaze at not only individual art pieces, but also at the environment in which it is placed.

Displays and People’s Behavior

Displays affect people’s behavior in the gallery, and make them viewers who interacted with the art. For example, in the exhibits of Francisco Goya, The Disasters of War and Los Caprichos, there are two rows of prints displayed at eye level across the room. As people watch the exhibits, some are folding arms, putting hands in pockets, or putting hands under chins. Also, many were bending forward while examining the paintings. In general, viewers in this exhibit showed heavy concentration. In another example, the exhibit Edgar Degas, Figures in Motion, there was a blend of both sculptures and elaborately framed sketches and paintings. Some people were imitating the posture of the sculptures, or looking at them from far away and then coming closer. Some even tried to sketch the exhibit. There was a sculpture where the viewer could look down on it, as it was displayed only a foot off of the ground, and thus the gallery shifted the level of viewers’ gazes.

Lightning/Color and People’s Behavior

Sounds and People’s Behavior

There are two exhibits with sounds as a focus in the gallery made by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. In the “Storm Room” are four plywood walls set up in the middle of the room and a path leading into the opening of the installation on the opposite wall. The installation is a room that is small, dark, and has windows with water trickling down and audio recordings playing continuously. People seem to be puzzled at first, and many enjoy the interesting space after examining further. (You can listen to the audio file provided to get the idea of viewers’ reaction.) The second installation was titled “The Murder of Crows. There are two entrances leading into a large dimly lit room with white walls and high ceilings. The center of the room has a spot-lighted gramophone with wooden chairs set in a semi-circle formation around it. Throughout the room and between the chairs are ninety-eight loud speakers set up. Some people close their eyes so that they can concentrate on the aural qualities art.

The Panopticon and the Gaze in the Gallery

Although people tend to enjoy by themselves in their own ways in the gallery, we could observe the social relationship among the people. From the point of “the gaze”, the security guards keep gazing at you while you are gazing at the exhibits. It means that the person who is gazing is also the person who is being gazed. Individuals are forced to “regulate their own behaviour” (Strurken and Cartwright 2009).

We observed that in the gallery, certain spaces had more security in them. In these cases people became less active in gazing at the art, speaking at a minimum rather than communicating with one another. According to Phil Lee's essay “Eye and Gaze”, the panoptican serves as a place where data (or in the case art) is “collected and collated” (Lee 2003). Thus being in a panoptic environment such as the gallery, the viewer becomes aware of being watched therefore collecting and organizing what they are gazing at. Foucault termed this the “inspecting gaze”(Foucault 1975) and said that while being watched the citizen is the “object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault 1975).

While viewing a piece of art in the Art gallery of Alberta, the viewer is constantly aware of being watched by either security guards, surveillance cameras, or other gallery goers themselves. The effect of the lighting, wall color, sounds, and presence of other people in the space all affect the viewer's viewing habits and behaviors.


Struken, Marita, and Cartwright, Lisa. 2009. Practices of Looking: An Introduction of Visual Culture. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Lee, Phil. 2003. eye and gaze. University of Chicago.

Foucault, Michel. 1975. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, New York: Pantheon.

Suggested Sites - Our audio recording of the Storm Room - Pictures of the layout of the Murder of Crows installation

This blog post was written by Amy Walsh, Yumeko Naito and Kevin Leung

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