Exhibition design 2020 | Aleksander Kotsis : Shades of Realism at the National Museum in Cracow | Team: lead designer Jan Strumiłło, assistant designer Julia Jankowska, student Helena Wierzbowska | Open an the Szołajski House in Cracow 5.03 – 11.07.2021 | Photographs courtesy of NMC | Photography by Łukasz Wojciechowski
Our key challenge lay in distributing a large number of works along the monotonous sequence of chambers spread on two stories. We work closely together with the curator to turn this exercise in tabulation and even spacing into a compelling narrative. Importantly we decided to give in to the bourgeois charm of the Szołajski house – an urban manor complete with frescoes and heavy wooden floors. Instead of fighting the character of the classic interiors we worked to boost it and to create an environment for Kotsis’ works that would mimic their “natural” surroundings. In this way the richly decorated ceramic stoves and other historical details in the building play on our side. Having seen all too many exhibitions crammed with art beyond wall capacity we fought hard to keep enough space between the works.
The late nineteenth century realistic paintings in heavy gilt frames hang against painted walls. The colours were chosen carefully to compliment the subject matter. Along the walls we designed broad plinths. Painted deep aubergine colour they lead the visitor through the maze-like space and serve as support for the visual information system: painting descriptions, biographic notes and navigation aids. They surround all rooms and conceal technical installations.
To provide comfort for the weary art admirers we designed sturdy benches of solid Tatra fir. The benches and other wooden details reference Kotsis’ own fascination with the Tatras, evidenced in one of the exhibition rooms devoted solely to his highland-themed works.
In the final rooms we changed plinth colour to light blue to visually set apart the commentary section of the exhibition. In the lost works room we chose to print the images of paintings on life-size plywood panels. The wood grain visible underneath the print layer helps to understand that it is just a “shadow” of an artwork that you are looking at.