Exhibiting and the Gestalt Principles

Exhibiting and the Gestalt Principles



To put something in a vitrine means making it interesting while telling something about the history of the object and its cultural background means contextualizing it and justifying its relevance for the posterity. According to Michael Baxandall, the art historian who first developed a relation between art history and commerce, exhibition means construction around an object, its position, display and description. This format of information – decontextualized and re-contextualized by experts- permits appropriation of knowledge just like a book and its narrative. He sees exhibiting as an information tool.


An Exhibition that resembles a sensitive experience, like mostly happens nowadays, is conscious of different learning styles: visual, auditory and kinetical. Visitors are immersed in a certain environment that stimulates as much senses as possible often being involved into the making of the exhibition itself. The Tate Britain open galleries are disposed at the side of long atrium of typical Victorian architecture: hard stone and high ceilings. The space is hosting an invisible experiment by Susan Philipsz  “War Damaged Musical Instruments”. By placing several speakers on the four corners of the room the air is filled   with the art of sound, resonating magnificently in the long space and immersing the visitor into an ‘aural’ atmosphere that carries them around through the galleries where paintings and sculptures are disposed for contemplation. By installing powerful megaphones in the main atrium, the curators were able to maintain the situation of intellectual appreciation that we can breathe in a fine art museum, thus creating continuity all over the exhibition-experience path.


Furthermore, such fashion for involving the visitor senses brings the exhibition itself, closer to the human experience. Humboldt et lab (2013) displayed outfits and commo n objects in vitrine with the purpose to convey a half of an intelligible story and increase the imaginative thinking of spectators.

The Gestalt’s psychological principles formulated at the end of the XX century in Germany explain the way we make connections between things on the basis of six rules: simplicity, similarity, proximity, continuity, closure and symmetry. The experiment of exposing party outfits without the people that wore them, creates empty spaces that our brain is naturally challenged to fill, by the rule of ‘closure’. This reflections are particularly useful for filmmakers and writers who can imagine a whole story behind objects and outfits aside.

gestalt principles

The role of the curator hence is that of the guide and inspirer: as a frame she can create focus and distort attention but disappears behind the scenes, leaving the public to interact and respond to her narrative setting


It.wikipedia.org. (2016). Michael Baxandall. [online] Available at: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Baxandall [Accessed 5 May 2016].

Tate.org.uk. (2016). Tate structure and staff: Tate Britain. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/about/who-we-are/tate-structure-and-staff/tate-britain [Accessed 5 May 2016].

Humboldt-forum.de. (2016). Pictures – Humboldt-Forum. [online] Available at: http://www.humboldt-forum.de/en/humboldt-lab-dahlem/project-archive/probebuehne-1/pre-show/pictures/ [Accessed 5 May 2016].

Lupton, E. and Phillips, J. (2008). Graphic design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.