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Few exhibitions visitors are aware of how artworks are displayed. Art on Display 1949-69 focuses specifically on the manner of presentation. It reveals, through six iconic examples, how the display itself helps to create the experience. The presentation form, in other words, has an influence on the viewer’s perception of both the exhibition space and the exhibits. Six progressive, post-war exhibition designs by architects Carlo Scarpa, Franco Albini and Franca Helg, Lina Bo Bardi, Aldo van Eyck, and Alison and Peter Smithson illustrate how designers explicitly shape the relationship between artwork and viewer. These architectural approaches are reconstructed on a 1:1 scale, allowing visitors to experience them in three dimensions.

Partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon

Art on Display and the research that underpins it are the result of an international partnership between Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Jaap Bakema Study Centre and the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. In order to optimise the way the exhibition works, each reconstruction contains a selection of artworks from the collection of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, which can be seen in the Netherlands for the first time. Unlike a standard travelling exhibition, the project has taken on very different forms in Lisbon and in Rotterdam, where the exhibition has been designed by architect Jo Tailleu.

In addition to the exhibition of six historical reconstructions and dozens of works of art, the ambitious project also includes a web magazine, an (online) public programme and a catalogue.

"This is an intriguing exhibition. A show about showing might sound unbearably self-indulgent, but it is in fact quite the opposite. It is about the big ideas in modern architecture — about the grid and the city, the changing nature of public space, about a slow reconciliation of the modern and the historic. It is also about the institution, its role in society and its changing relationship with its audience.’’
Financial Times, Edwin Heathcote 29 November 2019

Exhibition strategies

How art is displayed influences the way it is experienced. An exhibition can give visitors a sense of continuity and order, or disorient or provoke them. Some designs encourage an intimate relationship with the artwork, while others prompt a common experience. Art on Display offers the unique opportunity to experience several historical approaches to exhibition design at full size, populated with artworks from a collection that has never previously been shown in the Netherlands. The exhibition reveals contrasting strategies: the displays designed by Carlo Scarpa, Franco Albini and Franca Helg invite contemplation, while the more democratic presentation methods of Lina Bo Bardi and Aldo van Eyck aimed to establish a direct encounter with the artwork, and Alison and Peter Smithson’s labyrinthine installation almost completely immerses the visitor. Each of the various exhibition strategies raises architectural and museological questions, suggests different potential relationships between art and the public, and reveals the underlying social ambitions of the designer, the curator and the cultural institution that hosted the exhibition. 


The coronavirus pandemic broke out while this exhibition was being prepared. Now that it is partly determined by the rules of the 1.5 metre society, the staging of the encounter between visitor and artwork has acquired an unintended extra dimension. It sharpens our insights concerning the (im)possibilities of spatial and material exhibition design.


Since its foundation in 2013, Het Nieuwe Instituut has experimented with a range of different exhibition models. Art on Display is part of a series of exhibitions which consist of 1:1 scale models and explore the mediation of art and design and the possible role of the visitor, while reflecting on the exhibition design. This is part of the Landscape and Interior long-term research theme. Earlier examples include 1:1 Sets for Erwin Olaf; 1:1 Period Rooms; Temporary Fashion Museum and Neuhaus.

The exhibition is on view at Het Nieuwe Instituut from 4 October 2020 to 7 March 2021. These exhibition dates are subject to change and are dependent on the corona measures in force at that time.

The exhibitions in Lisbon and Rotterdam were both curated by Penelope Curtis, director of the Gulbenkian Museum, and Dirk van den Heuvel, head of the Jaap Bakema Study Centre. For more information:

Note for editors

For more information, please contact Eveline Mulckhuyse,, 06 – 26 67 12 15 or Christiane Bosman,, 06 – 24 11 04 19 
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