Jeff Wall Photographs – Exhibition Design

Visitors to the National Gallery of Victoria often plan to see a specific exhibition they are interested in. They may have heard about it through friends, the media or seen signage around the gallery. As an exhibition designer, cohesive communication is a primary concern to introduce an exhibition. One strategy dedicated to this is to establish context for visitors when they enter a gallery. This is usually achieved through a title-wall: a wall near the entrance of a gallery that displays the title of the exhibition, usually in the form of a masthead developed especially for the exhibition. This masthead is generally used for marketing, media and on the cover of the exhibition publication. It establishes an identity for the exhibition that can be easily identified so that when you come to see it, it’s easy to find what you are looking for.

When taking a masthead developed by Graphic Design into the gallery space, scale, materiality and colour are critical. The title wall signals a shift from public space to art space and visually introduces a dialogue with the rest of the gallery. Emphasis can be placed on connections in the narrative of content through design, reinforcing themes of the exhibition. The Jeff Wall title wall employed the established masthead and referenced a dark red colour prominent in the first work seen in the exhibition – Destroyed Room. This image is also used on the cover of the publication where a dark maroon was used for the masthead, so dark red tones emerged as a logical palette.

Adjacent to this work in the gallery is Wall’s Double Self-Portrait, 1979. Along with ideas embedded in the exhibition of how we look at and appreciate beauty, are notions of reflection, perspective and identity. Thus materials that might reflect or refract interior views or the self in the gallery space were investigated. Ultimately the design developed into a masthead of raised red mirror letters. A laser cut substrate was painted the same shade as the wall to provide depth, the laser cut red mirror acrylic was then mounted to this and produced at a scale of around 2 metres wide, a size determined to work best spatially and ensure visibility. The position of this title-wall means that the art is the first introduction to the exhibition; the exhibition is then formally introduced through the text of the title wall. On closer inspection, this title wall reflects that first artwork, the wider gallery interior and eventually the very person experiencing it.