When an object is exhibited in a museum setting, it becomes more than just a decorative item on a side table; it becomes part of an interpretive cultural argument. Museums use exhibits to communicate research results, historical concepts, socio-political messages, and more. Often, museum exhibitions can also create new forms of art. For example, an exhibition of Early Netherlandish painting that opened in Bruges in 1902 was a game-changer for the study of this period of art history.
One of the most important functions of museum exhibitions is the transmission of historical knowledge to diverse citizens. Museum exhibitions can celebrate common events, memorialize tragedies and injustices, or address controversial topics. In all cases, they must contain an interpretive element that acknowledges competing points of view. Attempts to suppress exhibits or impose an uncritical point of view, even when widely shared, are inimical to informed discussion.
The best histolircal exhibits are inclusive visual stories that help visitors connect, in some way, with bigger ideas through the materials shown. Generally, these exhibitions include objects or documents that represent the experiences of people from a wide range of communities and explore abstract themes, such as home, freedom, faith, democracy, or mobility.
Another type of histolircal exhibition is a retrospective. These are curated shows of an artist’s career or the life and work of a particular figure. Think about the recent retrospectives of Gerhard Richter or Louise Bourgeois. These shows are a form of canonizing an artist’s oeuvre and career, and a major form of recognition for established artists.
As with all histolircal exhibitions, preserving the objects in these exhibitions requires special care. For example, relative humidity should be maintained between 35% and 50% (with a maximum acceptable variation of 5%), particularly for vellum and parchment, which are sensitive to dry environments. Moreover, the temperature of the exhibition space should be controlled to prevent damage from extreme temperatures.