Stages and Scenes: Creating Architectural Illusion is the culmination of the first year of the new MA programme Curating the Art Museum, offered by The Courtauld Institute of Art. This exhibition, curated by the eight students on the programme, centres on the rise of the theatre as a spectacular display of wealth and power, which reached its height in 18th-century Europe. Artists used their mastery of perspective and Baroque ornament to extend the limits of the stage. The exhibition, which was on show at The Courtauld Gallery from 26 June to 27 July 2008, included prints, drawings, paintings and early books and investigated the links between theatre, architecture and art in these flamboyant times and illustrate how creative approaches to the stage reached remarkable levels of invention and excess.
About the project:
The exhibition project serves as a culmination to the practical side of The Courtauld’s new MA programme Curating the Art Museum. The eight students were given an open brief to explore The Courtauld collection and to bring together an exhibition for display in The Courtauld Gallery. Encouraged to look towards works that were not often, or had not recently been, on display, the students had full access to The Courtauld’s diverse collections, including the Conway Library with its rich collection of photographs of European architecture and the Book Library’s special collections of early edition books. In addition, they made use of the vast collection of works on paper housed in The Courtauld’s Print Room and of the collection of painting, sculpture and decorative arts. Through exploring and researching these collections the students brought together the exhibition Stages and Scenes: Creating Architectual Illusion.
Stages and Scenes was curated by:
The theatre is a site of illusion. For centuries, it has drawn on a range of tricks from lighting and sound to trap doors and cloud machines. In the creation of illusion, sets and scenery can have a crucial role to play. Through skilled rendering of architecture and perspective, the smallest stage can be converted into the most expansive of settings.
The 17th and 18th centuries witnessed the rise of the theatre as a vehicle for grand spectacle in Europe. Princes and noble families directed vast funds into the staging of courtly productions, well aware of their propaganda value. This patronage helped to create a climate in which generations of theatrical artists could build on the innovations of their predecessors. Architects and stage designers developed techniques for evoking the infinite, the heavenly or the sublime within a limited space.
This exhibition explores this fertile territory. It is organised in four sections: Capturing the Moment includes records of grand performances and festivals; Fantastic Inventions explores capriccios, in which artists integrate elements of real architecture into larger fantasy scenes;Building the Scene brings out the close links between the capriccio and the theatre, displaying designs for stage scenery. And, finally, The Illusion of Space presents ceiling designs which adopt similar visual strategies, to permanent effect, in real buildings.
This exhibition has been curated by the students of the new MA programme Curating the Art Museum. An integral part of the year’s course, it is a response to an open brief to explore and present works from the rich and diverse collections of The Courtauld Gallery.
One of the long meetings where we refined lists of artworks, discussing ideas and debating the concept of the exhibition. On the wall in the background are works grouped by the four subheadings of the show.
Students examine works from The Courtauld Library Special Collections for historical links to the drawings chosen for the exhibition. Four volumes are presented in Stages and Scenes, detailing architectural theories on stage design.
Disaster!: The niche for the title was painted white, by accident, and we rushed to match the colour before artworks were allowed in the gallery.
Courtauld Gallery Curators Barnaby Wright and Stephanie Buck assist students with a ’dummy hang’, the experimental placement of artworks in order on the wall. The proposed hang changed … a number of times.
Two professional art handlers look for the ‘go-ahead’. While we decided the order and spacing of the works, these two safely fixed them to the wall.
One of our lighting experts fumbles for a 50 watt lamp. Conservation requirements dictate the amount of light allowed on each work, but the style of lighting dramatically improved the appearance of the works on the wall.
Comments from the visitors' book
“I did not expect the subject of the exhibition to hold much appeal for me personally but I found it to be fascinating. The text panel s are superb giving an understanding and insight to the casual viewer. I am glad I chanced upon this opportunity and I am sure in future I will have a new regard for such drawings… A great achievement for the MA students and I sense they have enjoyed their past year.”
“Wonderful show. More of these curated works on paper shows please! That a single collection can do justice to this sort of idea is fabulous and makes one hope that it could foster 100 more!”
“Really fantastic — wonderful exhibits and inspiring use of thematic linking. Good textual accompaniments — thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition!!”
“Innovative idea for an exhibition and elegantly realized.”