Montreal, Canada – Exhibitionism: To ‘show’ or to ‘tell’ architecture that is the question

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by Trevor Boddy / The Architectural Review, London / Published in December 2010

A complex game of showing and telling architecture in Montreal:

At the peak of the millennial building boom, architects were desperate to design large museums and art galleries. With the diminished expectations of the great recession, architects are now desperate to have mere exhibitions in them.

The explosion of interest in architectural exhibitions – from both our profession and the wider public – was the subject of a late-2010 colloquium sponsored by the Mellon Foundation at Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). The gathering brought together museum professionals, architects and historians to explore the intellectual terrain of how to transform buildings, public spaces, and most of all, architectural ideas into cogent exhibitions of interest to diverse publics.

Several dozen curators and critics from Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland, UK and the US gathered on the neutral ground of a grey and leaf-strewn Montreal, awaiting its inevitable entombment by snow. To summarise vastly, the Montreal debate was between ‘show’ and ‘tell’; that is, more traditional architectural exhibitions which mount showings of drawings, models and photographs, versus a more recent tendency to construct elaborate thematic narratives heavily reliant on video and wall texts, lots and lots of wall texts. The exhibition curators most associated with the latter tended to spit out the word ‘monograph’ as if the gravest architectural sins are shows or books highlighting drawings and photographs of actual built work by a single designer or firm.

The ‘tell-ers’ … Read More