Signage and Not So Common Sense in Galleries

The Art Gallery of Algoma is currently featuring an exhibit titled Imagery from the Canadian North in its Project Room gallery. The exhibition contains works in a variety of mediums from the AGA’s permanent collection that were created by artists from Canada’s North. 

The small exhibit contains wall hangings, prints, drawings, paintings, and stone carving.  The pieces included provide a small glimpse into the rich artistic traditions in Canada’s arctic and Indigenous art in Canada.  I particularly enjoyed an untitled wall hanging by Joanne Akoptanuak depicting both humans and animals sharing a space.

However, very little contextual information was included in the project room about the featured artists, the impact of climate on art, and where in Canada’s North the works were created.  Two maps were included as part of the didactic material in the exhibit but didn’t really provide detailed context about the location of the Northern artists whose work was being featured.

While taking in the exhibition a few other visitors to the gallery were also in the space.  The exhibition features a few soapstone carvings on pedestals without a glass enclosure.  The signage at the entrance to the space did include a note about not touching the artwork.  However, during my time in the space I had to restrain myself when two other visitors repeatedly touched the uncovered artwork.  The one visitor also commented to a friend, “oh these pieces are uncovered, that must mean they want us to touch them.”  Cringing and sideways glares abounded.

If nothing else that experience reminded me of the importance of exhibition design, signage, and security in galleries and museums.  Things gallery staff might think are common sense aren’t always.  Having visible signage explaining appropriate conduct, contextual information, and educational information is a crucial part of any exhibition.