Culture Clash | Integrity of the gallery | Additional information

Additional information

Many galleries offer additional information alongside their exhibitions. This information will frequently include, amongst other things; biographical detail about the artist(s) in question, information about previous work and important themes and motifs within the work, and information about the current exhibition, including interpretation of the work.

That this information is offered is a sign of the gallery’s intentions; its presence states explicitly (although not necessarily honestly) that the gallery wants its audience to engage with the work, and this statement is an important one: it is a sign of the gallery’s duty of care to its visitors. The gallery also has a duty of care to the work, and in some cases it may benefit the work to have additional information, but it is useful to remember that this isn’t always the case.

It is in these instances, where it is not necessarily beneficial to the work – where the balance of the duty of care has swung toward the visitor – that we can consider additional information to be a concession. It tells us that the gallery recognizes that the visitor may need help, that they may not know this information already and that knowing it could have benefits.

Is additional information always useful? In providing interpretation – providing ideas about the work – the gallery may be sheltering its visitors from the anxiety of having to engage their Negative Capacity; it is, in other words, potentially providing answers where it should perhaps be entertaining questions. Whether this is a useful thing to do may come down to the capacity of each individual visitor; for some it may be an effective device, whilst for others it may prove a hindrance to their imagination, and an unnecessary annoyance. Perhaps the most useful question to ask is whether the negative effects on the latter – those who don’t want the information – outweigh the positive effects on the former, those who find the information useful in engaging with the experience.

Additional information hopes to, amongst other things, guide the visitor into the work and to give them an initial foothold from which to start. Whilst the information will undoubtedly change in style and content according to individual exhibitions and galleries, it generally makes a recurrent assumption; that the visitor has a philosophical framework, a vocabulary of experience, to draw upon.

A framework consists of ideas about art; what it is, what it can be, and how to apprehend it. We each have some sort of framework in place, but, as we’ve seen, a lot of the time it can serve to restrict experience rather than facilitate it – that is generally when the question “is this art?” can be heard. In providing information the gallery is assuming that the visitor is pre-disposed to engage with the experience – they needn’t like the work, but it is assumed that they will be able to access the work, and to assess it on its own terms. The information offers help with the work itself, but generally presupposes a philosophical grounding in the artistic experience; to re-visit our earlier terms, it is a concern of the interior stage, not the exterior.

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Culture Clash | Integrity of the gallery | Duty of care