Reading List

List Creator

Bridget Gayle Ground

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Architecture and design histories in museum exhibitions

These readings were consulted for my master’s thesis, “Engaging Displays of Architecture and Design History: Approaches to Museum Exhibition Practice.”


  • Place and Displacement: Exhibiting Architecture.

    Zürich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2014.

    This collection of essays is based on a 2013 symposium of the same name and provides a theoretical framework for considering the role of the exhibition in the field of architecture. It is organized by three themes: the exhibition as site for discourse; the role of institutions in developing exhibitions and the influence of their disciplinary practices; and the role of representation in the circulation of architectural information.

  • “Exhibiting Intention: Some Preconditions of the Visual Display of Culturally Purposeful Objects.”

    Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, 33–41.

    Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

    Baxandall considers how meaning is constructed within an exhibition by identifying three “cultural terms”—the object, exhibition organizers, and viewer—the respective cultural contexts of which constantly act upon one another. He argues that because interpretation occurs in the space between these terms (for example, viewers insert their own experiences into the space between the objects and the organizer-authored narrative), the selection of objects and text is critical to the messages that an exhibition will carry.

  • “Theses on the Philosophy of History.”

    Illuminations, 253–264. Translated by 
Harry Zohn.

    New York: Schocken Books, 1969.

    This work considers a tendency to treat history as a preconceived narrative of progress and conformity rather than a series of authentic and unique moments. He contrasts historicism—which describes a universal, homogenous, stagnant past—with “historical materialism”—which reveals crystalized “monads” of the past, “blasting a specific life out of the era or a specific work out of the lifetime,” and thereby preserves specificity. A possible application for exhibition practice is the challenge to present “monads” of history in a way that conveys the sense of their former present, rather than their context in a homogenized version of the past.

  • “The Exhibitionary Complex.”

    Culture, Power, History, edited by Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner, 123–154.

    Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

    Bennett’s account of the nineteenth-century development of the museum as a public institution (and its “exhibitionary complex”) reveals the emergence of a hegemonic system of organizing and viewing exhibitions. Bennett considers how and for whom exhibitions were displayed, and the resulting traditions for organizing information about the history of the world around us through display and disciplinary conventions.

  • Online

    “Out of Site in Plain View: A History of Exhibiting Architecture since 1750.”

    A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., April 7–May 12, 2013.

    These lectures provide a “genealogy” of the architectural exhibition, tracing its history since the nineteenth century and proposing new directions for its practice, such as an emphasis on process over product. While Bergdoll focuses on the capacity of the contemporary exhibition to instigate debate within the field of architecture and design, I will focus on its capacity to educate a general public.

  • “Beyond Collection Work: The Evolving Role for Curators.”

    Museum May/June 2017, 13–15.

    This article discusses AAM’s 2014 “Curator Core Competencies.” Emphasizes publishing given its longevity compared to temporality of exhibitions as well as a means to “extend the outreach and relevance of curatorial work” (14). It also points to the increasing collaborations with “community curators,” meaning that the curator is becoming a liaison or connector who facilitates interpretation of materials by others. (15)

  • "Critical Disciplinarity."

    Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (2004): 355–60.

  • “Mirror of Dreams.”

    Log 20 (2010): 49–53.

  • "Memory, Distortion and History in the Museum."

    Museum Studies, edited by Bettina Messias Carbonell, 2012

    Wiley-Blackwell.

    This article considers how cultural literacy (including “museumification” or the awareness of the function of museums), historical consciousness (a desire to understand the past), and personal memory affect the experience of an exhibition visitor. Crane observes that no two experiences are alike depending on these factors, and considers the presence of distortions in memory, noting that how a story is presented is as important as the story itself. She concludes that exhibitions should at once draw on and create memory in order to be effective, and should address the memory distortion process to help explain (and justify) exhibitions as a subjective work of authorship.

  • “Locating Authenticity: Fragments of a Dialogue.”

    Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, 159–175, 1991.

    Washington: Smithsonian

    This article considers characteristics that contribute to the perception of authenticity in exhibitions, including objects—noting the resonance of common, mass-produced items of the recent past, and the challenges related to their acquisition and preservation—and exhibition design—noting the ways in which objects are transformed by their placement within an exhibition, and the primacy of the multi-sensorial experience of an exhibition over its objects or ideas.

  • Online

    “Twelve Ways of Looking at Frank Lloyd Wright.”

    The New York Review of Books, Aug. 17, 2017.

  • “Resonance and Wonder.”

    Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, 42–56, 1991.

    Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press

    This article provides a model for creating meaningful engagement with nuanced content through exhibition design that balances a sense of “resonance”—or that which “pulls the viewer away from the celebration of isolated objects and toward a series of implied, only half-visible relationships and questions…”—with a sense of “wonder”—or that which can “stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention.” Greenblatt suggests that wonder be employed to attract attention to and foster a desire for resonance, a particularly compelling theory when considering the capacity of analog objects to engage attention in the digital age.

  • Online

    "Architecture's Place in the Museum."

    Archinect, Aug. 17 2016.

  • “What is the Object of this Exercise?”

    Daedalus 128, no. 3 (Summer 1999): 163–183.

    Gurian argues that the value of museums lay not in its objects but in its role as a civilizing space for multi-sensory learning and for the formation of new ideas. It raises questions about the goals of exhibition environments and opportunities for interaction, and about the preservation of such experiences, which might be achieved today through digital documents and publications.

  • Harris, Dianne.

    Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 70, no. 2 (June 2011): 149–52.

    Harris observes the insular nature of the field of architectural history and considers the benefits of opening the discourse to broad, cross-disciplinary perspectives. This argument served as a basis for Harris's plenary talk at the 2014 conference of the Society of Architectural Historians in Austin, TX, in which she called for architectural historians to engage with the public by acting as moderators of pubic discourse, and utilizing high-quality presentation and digital resources to expand the reach of historians’ work and to increase engagement with the public.

  • “Storehouses of Knowledge: The Origins of the Contemporary Architectural Museum.”

    Canadian Centre for Architecture: Building and Gardens, edited by Larry Richards.

    Montreal: CCA, 1989.

    This essay traces the history of the architectural museum, with an emphasis on collecting traditions, from the collection of drawings and sketches and casts and fragments, to, in the twentieth century, papers and correspondence in analog and digital form (though he fails to give substantial attention to photography as a “media of architectural display”).

  • “An Introduction to the Museum.”

    Sir John Soane’s Museum London

    London: Merrell Publishers Limited, 2009.

  • “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process."

    The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai, 64–94.

    Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    Kopytoff considers how biographies are constructed and applied to (or extracted from) objects, and how cultural ideas of biography affect the commoditization and thus circulation of an object.

  • "Designing the Past: History-Museum Exhibitions from Peale to the Present.”

    History Museums in the United States: A Critical Assessment, edited by Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig, 2–37.

    Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

    This article provides an overview of trends and approaches to the design of historical exhibitions U.S., considering the varying levels of emphasis on didactic information and narrative, as well as on the sheer number of objects displayed.

  • “Just What is it that Makes Today’s Architectural Exhibitions So Different, So Appealing?”

    As Seen: Exhibitions that Made Architecture and Design History, edited by Zoë Ryan, 118.

    Art Institute of Chicago, 2017.

  • “The Architectural Museum, A Founder’s Perspective.”

    In Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 58, no. 3 (September 1999)

    Lambert considers the history of architectural museum and its value as an institution for research and scholarly inquiry. She discusses institutional activities that develop the field beyond collecting and exhibition, such as documenting the field through photography commissions, publishing, and engaging scholars through visiting scholar programs.

  • Online

    “Setting a Place for History.”

    The New York Times.

  • “Relics.”

    The Past is a Foreign Country, 238–48.

    Cambridge University Press, 1985.

    This chapter describes the sense of tension (and history) created by the present-day encounter of relics of the past, which are recognized through the processes of aging, embellishment, and anachronism. Lowenthal observes that relics are effective in communicating history in that they bear witness to everyday life with minimal bias, potentially filling archival silences; are accessible by direct, sensorial experience, which can be encountered less consciously than textual history; and provide proof of their history and lasting relevance through their scarcity in and contrast to the present day. Meanwhile, Lowenthal observes the 'defect' of reliquary knowledge in requiring interpretation to explain their context and significance. He concludes, "relics render the past more important but not better known."

  • Exhibiting Architecture: A Paradox?

    Yale School of Architecture, 2015.

  • “MoMA to Organize Collections That Cross Artistic Boundaries.”

    New York Times, Dec. 15, 2015.

    This article offers examines MoMA’s ongoing architectural renovations to provide insight into twenty-first-century curatorial practice. Through its redesigned building, MoMA announced its shift away from organizing exhibitions according to linear chronologies and single-disciplinary perspectives, and toward a more interdisciplinary and ground-up approach. This marks a shift in museum practice (in the article MoMA’s chief curator Ann Temkin comments, “I’m not naïve about the fact that the Museum of Modern Art is a very influential institution, but I think the way we can be influential today is different”) and establishes a case for the representation of architecture, its creation, and reception through interdisciplinary collections.

  • As Seen: Exhibitions that Made Architecture and Design History.

    Art Institute of Chicago, 2017.

  • Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach.

    Alta Mira Press, 1996.

    Serrell’s book is a standard reference among institutions. It provides guidelines for the writing and placement of exhibition labels, with special consideration given to the engagement of diverse audiences.

  • “Images of New England: Documenting the Built Environment.”

    American Archivist 50 (Fall 1987), 474–498.

    This article describes the variety of materials pertinent to architectural history and the network of institutions in which they are collected. While her article focuses on the value of architectural collections for historic preservation efforts, and is restricted to relevant collections in the Northeast region of the U.S., her discussion has broader relevance. She points to the value of architectural collections for public engagement and education through exhibitions, and her argument for cross-institutional coordination of collecting practices for the development of a rich, comprehensive body of records has applications for museum exhibition practice, particularly in the digital age.

  • The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art.

    MIT Press, 1998.

    Staniszewski surveys and analyzes exhibition display techniques at MoMA in the twentieth century, considering the impacts of installations on the perceived meaning of objects within, and on the experience of the museum visit.

  • Online

    “Expanded Audiences and the “Second Building: An Interview with CCA Director Mirko Zardini.”

    ArchDaily, June 1, 2017.

  • pdf

    Gallery Text at the V&A: A Ten Point Guide.

  • "Museums and Controversy.”

    Mickey Mouse History

    Temple University Press, 1996.

    In this essay Wallace considers the importance of engaging museum visitors with socially relevant, even if challenging, topics, observing that museums fall behind in this effort when compared with theater and the visual arts. To increasingly integrate multifaceted points of view in museums, he suggests breaking down the idea of curatorial authority through collaborations between historians, curators, and librarians He also makes an interesting case for interdisciplinarity, warning museums not to become “like magazines” that allow individuals to delve into personal interests and lifestyles at the exclusion of others, but to introduce its audiences to a diverse, even if challenging, range of content.

  • “Discipline-Person"

    The Aesthetics of Equity: Notes on Race, Space, Architecture, and Music

    University Of Minnesota Press, 2007

  • The Modern Eye: Stieglitz, MoMA, and the Art of the Exhibition, 1925–1934.

    Yale University Press, 2009

    This book considers how institutions such as MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented and popularized modern art to the general public through exhibitions and marketing methods.

  • What "No!" Means for Architectural Conservation: The Secret Life of Drawings in Collections

    The Secret Life of Buildings. Center 21.

    Austin: Center for American Architecture and Design

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