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The Display of Art

To display an object is to assert that it is worthy of inspection. The object may be considered culturally important or beautiful or the product of extraordinary skill, and its display may itself be an artful endeavor worthy of study. The creation of determined viewing conditions brings together ideas and objects, creating narratives that assign meanings, so that our experience of any object and the meaning we take from it change with its mode of display. Consider a cult statue set in an ancient temple, carried away and displayed as booty in a triumphal procession, reused as spolia, showcased in a sculpture garden, recast in plaster for artists to study, adorning the hall of a country house, exhibited in a national museum, reproduced on a postcard, and given a virtual existence on the web. The life story of a work of art requires attention to the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts of its display.

Display is a driving force in the art world, controlling access to objects. In some cases, objects only become works of art by virtue of being displayed. Ritual or utilitarian objects — such as a fetish or an ancient drinking cup — become art (or like art) when presented in a gallery. Display is the raison d'être of the modern museum, and the study of museums and their history will be of interest during this scholar year, as will the relationship of display to conservation and interpretation. Aspects of display related to antiquity will be a special focus, from the description of an ancient gallery by Philostratus to the spatial and lighting conditions of antiquities to broader conceptions of display, such as the ways in which ancient ruins serve to display a distant past.

The Special Collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute are rich in materials bearing upon the display of art. In gallery and dealer archives the researcher can find Joseph Duveen being asked to find an early Italian panel painting that will suit the collector's decor, Clement Greenberg describing his ideal gallery space, and Giuseppe Panza deliberating about how to make his private collection accessible to the public in renovated villas and factories. Or perhaps the researcher is interested in early prints of Wunderkammern, the correspondence of Wilhelm von Bode about display practices in the German Empire, documentation of World Fairs, Josef Breitenbach's photographs of surrealist exhibitions, or rare materials on museum architecture, from early nineteenth-century studies on typology to the designs of Zaha Hadid. Beyond the wealth of such diverse archival materials, the presence of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Villa, and the Getty Conservation Institute provides unparalleled opportunities for scholars in residence to benefit from the expertise of Getty staff who are actively engaged in the theories and practices of display.

The Getty Research Institute seeks applications from researchers who are interested in questions bearing upon the display of art and wish to be in residence at the Getty Reserach Institute or Getty Villa during the 2009/2010 academic year.

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