Albert Vallverdu is an independent exhibition designer and an expert in museography. He is a professional whose skills are crucial while materializing exhibitions from the initial ideas to actual spaces that we enjoy visiting. I was always curious about who and how decides how the certain artworks are displayed and how many people are involved in the production of an exhibition. Albert agreed to answer some of my questions.
Agneta: How did you arrive in exhibition designing? was it something you always did or you worked in other fields previously?
Albert Vallverdu: Designing an exhibition was one of my first projects after graduation and I instantly saw it was what I wanted to do. I have worked in almost all design-related fields: graphic design, digital design, and exhibitions. Exhibitions are very transversal projects and that is why it is helpful to have knowledge in diverse spheres.
A: Where exactly does your work start in developing and exhibition?
A.V: The contents of the exhibition are normally defined by the curator, who also summarizes the following documents:
It all starts at the meeting where the curator explains the idea of the exhibition, where he/she introduces content divided by sections, the key items, and the interrelationship between all of it. Starting from here I usually prepare a layout with some elevations that I would bring to the next meeting in order to introduce a museography based solution that I propose as the most adequate for the project.
The museography based solution is usually a mix. On one hand, there are aesthetic and functional needs of the items and space available. On the other hand, there is an idea or design that with the help of architecture, allows expressing the environment and highlight the subject of the exhibition. It also contributes to the discourse and show-casting of the exhibited pieces.
A: What is usually the range of time you have to develop an exhibition from scratch?
A.V: The first two or three months are usually for developing a museography based solution. It takes another two or three months to develop an executive project that will help the production and another three months for manufacturing and the fabrication.
A: What other people usually work together with the exhibition designer?
A.V: There are many people involved in developing an exhibition. Following is the list of most direct ones. At the museum or showroom: director and coordinator, maintenance, marketing and promotion. Contents and curators team: commissary, assistant commissary, contents coordinator, educational team and guided visits team, specialist advisors, editors, linguists, translators, conservators and restorers. Design team: the designer or architect, scenographer or interior designer, graphic designer/ illustrator, external engineering and lightning consultants. Production team: coordinator and monitor, production and postproduction of sound and image, computer technician developers, electrical technitians, carpinters, blacksmiths, large scale printing/serigraphy. Installation team: mailing of the pieces, conservation/restauration team, installation supervisors, assemblers, electrical technicians, lightning technicians, sound and image technicians, mounting installers, security/alarm, cleaning team and also transportation and insurance.
A: Do you personally prefer to develop an exhibition of classical or contemporary art? Maybe some other type at all? Why?
A.V: The exciting part about this job is that one can work with multiple subjects and diverse creations. I like to vary and I enjoy equally enjoy both: the Song dynasty bowl from the 12th century and a Warhol from the 20th century.
A: Group exhibitions or solo artist?
A.V: As for a designer, it is much more complicated to work on a project from different periods and authors but it is much more enriching at the same time.
While working on the thematic or group project the museography based solution depends entirely on the designer. That makes the work much more elaborated due to a variety of different items and subjects that have to be combined.
A: What factors can limit your work when designing an exhibition?
A.V: Preservation and security without doubts. The required conditions are getting stricter each day and that affects museography in a very direct manner.
A: How does it work with traveling exhibitions? Do they change locations with the installations or collaborate with a designer in each country?
A.V: Usually, the whole touring installations are designed prepared for diverse locations. If the budget allows that, the same installations are maintained at each location.
A: What about the exhibitions at the historical places? How much more complicated does the design of an exhibition become there when you can not modify or even touch the original walls?
A.V: There are two main obstacles while working in historical places. One of them is the fact that we cannot intervene in original walls and other surfaces, luckily we do have recourses to overcome this. The really important part is to respect and even highlight the site value with the help of the exhibition installation. The interaction between the exhibition and the environment has to be excellent as the final perception of the project depends on it.
A: What is your work style? Do you prefer hand sketches, virtual design programs or real models of spaces? what are other necessary tools for your work?
A.V: I am very intuitive while working and have a capacity of visualizing the space as it will look after the completion. I work directly on the computer designing floor plans and elevations. If I use 3D models these are usually to show the client in an easier to understand way.
A: Do you start designing with the objects to be exposed? If not, how much of the exhibition can be done without those objects being present?
A.V: I normally start working with an Excel sheet that contains miniature photographs, information and characteristics (names, measurements, etc) of the pieces to be displayed. If there is a possibility I visit the museum where the most important or more complicated to display pieces come from. On many occasions, I only have photos available. Frequent changes are normal as a consequence of seeing the displayed pieces together for the first time during the installation, especially at the art exhibitions.
A: In your opinion, what will the future exhibitions look like?
A.V: I could talk to you about virtual reality and other similar things but the truth is I think these resources will always remain complementary facing the relevance of the original pieces. I think that future exhibitions will have to focus on the object, displayed following aesthetic and technological tendencies… of each period of course, in order to convert a visit into a memorable experience for the visitor.
A: If you could design any exhibition you want, what kind of show would it be? In which city and place would you set it up?
A.V: Without any doubts, I would like to mount an exhibition of contemporary African art at MOCAA, (Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) in Cape Town. I am sure I would enjoy every moment of the project due to the environment, the team, the artists and their work.
A: Which other art and creativity related activities you do in life?
A.V: On my free time, I am an interior designer for family and friends.
A: What is the best thing/trigger for creativity?
A.V: In my case, it is a natural impulse 24/7. Many of the daily activities of any person are acts of creativity. And some times these acts channel into art.
A: Could you share with us some of your favorites? An art space that you like? An artist? Or your favorite work of art in general?
A.V: An artwork: any of the portraits by a Senegal origins photographer Omar Victor Diop. His portraits are extremely attractive and profound at the same time. They remove boundaries between art and fashion, between the ancestral and contemporary. They are vitality and hieratism at the same time inside the work that is rooted in vibrant African culture.
A space: Teshima Art Museum designed by the architect Ryue Nishizawa for the “Matrix”, 2010 art piece by Rei Naito. Space is overwhelming as a Gothic cathedral and delicate as a piece of porcelain. When you enter the space, the artwork enters inside of you and you feel in communion with it and with the rest of the visitors present. It is a totally spiritual experience.