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Bielefeld Graduate School

in History and Sociology

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Peter-David Friedrich

Reading Art - A study of exhibition texts and audio commentaries in museum exhibition situations on the basis of the 18th century up until present

The evolution of research on the theory and history of the museum has been highly dynamic in recent times. Although there was a stronger focus on the study of curatorship and spatial arrangements, the alleged peripheral exhibition texts were not given sufficient attention. It is therefore this aspect in particular which is to be made the focus here. The subject matter of the dissertation are exhibition texts in the museum context, which as sources of knowledge represent a tangible manifestation of ideas, messages, reflections and critical assessments of art objects. They are distinct from other texts due to the fact that they are in direct proximity to the respective objects and consequently have a unique impact on the way in which the latter are perceived. Alongside architectural, scenographic and other media elements they constitute an essential element in the general exhibition design.
The thesis examines the issue of which tasks, functions and meanings texts have, imply and invoke in exhibition situations. A focus of the research is to be on the manner in which they provide insight into historical presentations as well as exhibition forms and if they allow conclusions to be drawn with regard to art/cultural theory or schools. The period being studied extends from the 18th century up until present. First of all, this makes it possible to present a comprehensive outline of the evolutionary history of the exhibition texts; secondly, it enables the study of the symbiosis between text and artwork in the exhibition space. Using the example of select exhibits, the exhibition texts dedicated to them and audio commentaries in museums are analyzed and compared with regard to their design, presentation form and informative quality.

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