Industrial and exhibition designer Tal Gur has collaborated with the museum on the exhibition overview and designed the upper gallery, which holds the collection of optometrist and collector Claude Samuel. Our website editor, Adi Hamer, met him for a discussion about the challenges of exhibition design in general and in this exhibition in particular.
Adi Hamer: Tell me a bit about the process of designing the exhibition.
Tal Gur: Chronologically, the work process begins as early as the first phone call. I start to organize information, think and observe, that's when the data processing begins. In this case, I was already familiar with the museum's layout and with the collection, so I immediately began to think about how to combine the two.
The next step is more practical. I tried to study an additional aspect of the collection at every meeting we held. In the case of glasses - a small object on the one hand but a collection made up of many items on the other – the challenge is even greater than usual. The "What "- the questions of the items selected for display - took a while to take shape and due to the tight schedules, we had to adjust the modular "how" early on, this turned out to be the overall concept of the exhibition. Our goal was to design display devices that could adapt to various possibilities. So the thought process for the exhibition and space design took place at an early stage, while the curatorial concept was forming.
Photography: Shay Ben-Efraim
Do you think that because the design and curation took place simultaneously your design was influenced by or led the curation in a certain direction?
Every exhibition is built on dialogue. The design limited the quantity of the displayed objects. There was an understanding that for such a large collection a full display wasn't possible, so the objects eventually chosen for the exhibit had to reflect all the aspects and categories that characterize the collection.
An example of these work process decisions is the size of the display cases, 70 by 70. This choice had functional aspects such as the maximum depth which allows for a clear view of the objects. The size of the display area led to decisions regarding how many items to display and the nature of their arrangement in the given space.
What are the principles that guide you as an exhibition designer?
First of all, I take into account the nature of the objects intended for display. In the case of the glasses the immediate question is how to present these small objects in an open, very large, rectangular space without losing their visibility. One solution is the relationship between the space and the display case, as well as the mediation that the display case offers the object in relation to the space. We created small and intimate spaces that are more comfortable for the display of the glasses in this particular setting. The process is a gradual one; intermediate spaces provide a comfortable and measured display of the items that allow for movement and an intimate viewing. In the same way that a collector may not show you his entire collection at once, but pull out a single item from a drawer or point to a single piece in an album that is particularly important, the exhibition has high-lights as well.
Photography: Shay Ben-Efraim
From the visitor perspective – am I correct in assuming that this choice to create intermediate spaces requires and compels the visitor to linger and view every item separately?
This is where the curatorial concept and the decision made by curator, Maya Dvash comes into play, dividing the collection according to themes and within them creating connections to do with material, technology or cultural issues, but also forming distinctions and telling a story. Nevertheless, the exhibition plan is a democratic process, seeing that visitors may follow the curation themes, but can also choose to deviate from them and roam more freely. The movement between one viewing station and another creates elements of surprises and interesting perspectives within the exhibition. The visitors encounter eyes, viewing them and inviting them to come closer, the choice whether to except this invitation is an individual one. In actuality, as with any exhibition, it is hard to tell if the magic will happen until it is up and running.
You must be aware of the widespread discussion on the way in which the design takes over the exhibited items - when should the objects speak for themselves and when do they need some help? And how should the two balanced? Were there moments when you worried that the design may take over the small displayed objects?
This is a matter of character. Exhibition designers must be attentive and limit themselves conceptually. I think that the experience of visiting the exhibition can be divided into several phases, and here, among other things, also lies its uniqueness: when entering the gallery you see a type of installation that becomes the first visual experience in the space, alluding to the following sequences. Very soon the visitors are drawn to the opening in the display case and once they stand in front of it, they discover the glasses on display in all of their glory. The Display aids are very basic and only support or raise the objects where necessary. We have chosen a very technical, almost banal, material, you might say, which enables solutions when it is needed for support.
What about the lighting? This is a complicated aspect in any exhibition, but I understand that in this case it was a real challenge?
The Lighting was a central theme for this exhibition. Once we decided on the showcases it was clear that they could be closed from above and installed with interior lighting (as generally done in an exhibition such as this) I decided to use the existing light and this was a challenging choice that led me to the solution of showcases with open tops. This could have been problematic and we weren't sure if it would work. Ultimately, the choice to use bright colors in the display window and dark colors on the outside, swallowing all the surrounding light (this, by the way, started as an idea from graphic designers, Avigail Reiner and Shlomi Nahmani) creates the feeling of a cave filled with treasures. The contrast is very powerful but not dazzling, and one could say that this decision made all the difference, without having to create drama.
Reliance on the upper lighting arrangement also affected the showcases because they had to align in order to form track lines and, in this way, became an axis for the process and created a structure that is very logical. The groups are arranged linearly under the lighting tracks and this is reminiscent of archives or libraries. Claude compares the sensation to that of a deep sea diver, or of a small fish encountering a submarine and peering inside. I think that interesting themes have been created in this sense and that movement too has contributed to this. You discover something new each time.
Photography: Shay Ben-Efraim
If the light would come from an internal fixture in the display cases, the shadow underneath the boxes would not exist.
This is true. The shadow on the floor is part of the exhibition; it creates an additional layer within the lower sphere of the room and disrupts the two-dimensionality of the floor. This is also connected to the glass that juts out from the top of the display case, eluding to the world of optics -an optometrist test for instance, inserting and extracting lenses from a frame. The Glass that shoots up also helps in understanding the direction of the display window and which side of the display case to approach.
How much did you consider, if at all, the last exhibition held at the museum dedicated to the Nendo Studio? You could have easily created a space quite similar to it, in terms of nonlinear aggregations.
This was not a reference point, since every exhibition and every designer have their own process. The two exhibitions address completely different issues.
In recent years you designed several large and important exhibitions such as that of Vered Kaminski at the Tel Aviv Museum or "Local Testimony" at the "Eretz Israel Museum" in Tel Aviv. Did the work process for these exhibitions contribute anything to the work on this exhibition?
Sometimes exhibitions start from scratch and sometimes you work under more restrictive conditions. It's part of the fun, because ultimately it's all about creativity. In exhibits where there are many references to three-dimensionality and which display many items, the challenges are much greater, because the work includes display development and work with the space is more complex.
Tell me about the first exhibition you designed and how you entered the field? Or was it obvious that an industrial designer could design exhibits as well?
Exhibition design requires good instincts and an understanding of space – which requires a different relationship and is on a different scale than product design. Over the years, I was attracted to these challenges and began to design shows, this makes me very happy.
So as a designer for shows that address designing of "one of a kind" products you can engage with the museum under a different function every time - sometimes as the exhibition designer and at other times as an artist presenting his work and at times even act as both at once, as you did in this exhibition.
Yes, this is true, and it's a kind of a nice bonus and great fun.
Photography: Shay Ben-Efraim
To Tal Gur's project, presented as part of the exhibition >
More about the OVERVIEW exhibition >