Exhibition Design: The Fiery Pool

          A Sketch-up design for a mock exhibition of Maya objects. This project was completed for a fall 2015 Exhibition Design class taught by Dr. Victoria Lyall (Curator for Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Members of the curation team are: Jordan Pellew-Harvey (Exhibition Management and Development), McLaren Cundiff (Information and Interpretation Development), Michelle Sohnlein (Aesthetic Design & Production), and Anh Bui (Physical Design & Production). The object list were given to us by the Saint Louis Art Museum as part of own Fiery Pool exhibition.
        The mock exhibition will take part in an anthropological museum; as such, I placed utmost care to avoid generalizing or exoticizing Mayan culture. As a group, we decided on having plenty of wall labels, interactives, and pictures to contextualize the objects. To further highlight each objects as a work from a specific culture within the Mayan timeline, I place every objects, even those within a case grouping, on their own pedestals (pic 4). These pedestals are of different heights and sizes so viewers do not draw comparison between the objects. This individual display method accomplishes two things: First it makes the statement that each objects has their own unique aesthetic and contextual qualities independent of their cultural and historical contexts. Second, this non-linear way of displaying objects prevents visitors from creating a general canon or narrative about Maya objects, culture, and aesthetic outside of the exhibit themes. The non-linear method of display contrasts many traditional Western art museums where it is usual to install art works in side-by-side, drawing comparisons between the works. This comparison creates a straight forward timeline and narrative of art history (1).
        I designed the furniture and architecture of the Fiery Pool with structural forms of Maya in mind. The design of the cases and pedestals references the structural forms of Maya architecture. The multiple-level pedestals resemble the steps on Maya temples, while the angular label plates resemble the angular façade of Maya architecture motifs. I wanted to create a dynamic and organic space in to display the art objects while avoid producing a kitschy or exotic experience. This was accomplished by abstracting structural forms of Mayan architecture and environment to make slanted walls with multiple faces. I designed wall insets to display sculptures and carvings in-situ (how objects were originally meant to be seen) as part of the walls (pic 7). Likewise, I designed an area of the “Creature of the Fiery Pool” section to look like a pool of water (pic 5). On top of this pool are pedestals that resemble boulders or leaves where sculptures of water creatures can sit, again, placing them in-situ.
Accessibility is an important considerations for furniture and label design in this exhibition. I wanted the pedestals and display case to be little lower than the standard pedestal. Most objects (excluding the large sculpture and big groupings) are displayed at around 53 inches, as opposed to the common 58-60 inches. This way, objects are also closer to people with height disadvantages
. Didactic panels also placed lower so they can be read by people in wheelchair, as well as children.
The main focus of our project was gallery 3- Environment and Ceremony. We decided to group “Cenote of Sacrifice” and “Religious Rite of Bloodletting” together because both of these sections are in some way related to the theme of ceremony and landscape. Maya bloodletting ceremonies were rituals done to get in touch with the physical plane while the Cenote represents the Maya connection to the underworld. Both of these themes are also somewhat morbid to the modern audience. The area for “Cenote” and “Bloodletting” will have dim lighting and spot light to express the darkness of the Cenote and the drama of bloodletting. A wall separates the two groups from the rest of the well lit gallery. Bottlenecking is a concern for this section, but we feel that the space is wide enough that audience can comfortably move back and forth. (pic 5 and 6)
                 We chose a mural as a vista piece because of its scale and attention grabbing color. This piece is placed at the center of the back wall, directly across from entrance from gallery 2. We hope that the piece could draw visitors toward the back where many important, but smaller objects are placed. The “Stela with a male figurine emitting breath or wind in the form of conchs,” or example, is placed right before the mural because we felt that it was an important object. The Stela is full of motifs that reference other objects in the gallery on all sides of its faces. Our hope is that visitors will be drawn toward the mural,but walks around at the Stela to read through the motifs pertaining to the surrounding  objects  (pic 5 and 7)

(1) Duncan, Carol. 1999. “From the Princely Gallery to the Public Art Museum: The Louvre Museum and the National Gallery, London” in Representing the Nation: A Reader, edited by David Boswell and Jessica Evans, pp. 304-331. London: Routledge Press.

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