Shall museum exhibitions exude labour or grace?
That is, shall they reveal the hard work gone into producing them?
Or shall they appear effortless and graceful, concealing the many hours of curatorial work?
Just a decade ago, museums tried to hide the curators’ efforts; what mattered was the final product as the audience saw the show.
Today’s trend is to show the hard labour behind the scenes, even invite the visitors into the production line (museum 2.0).
I was induced to think about the shifting relationships between the notions of grace and labour when I read the announcement to a lecture by italianist Ita Mac Carthy (Birmingham) on the interconnections that characterise the literature and visual arts of the Italian Renaissance:
grace is a classically-inspired nonchalance, a certain ease and confidence that should accompany everything the ideal Renaissance citizen says and does. It is the art of concealing labour, of coaxing the public into thinking that what they see springs from nature not nurture.
one achieves grace by revealing — not concealing — the hard work that goes into art. This grace resists humanist connotations, criticises courtly abuses of the term and promotes a more Christian vision of the artist as the receiver rather than the giver of what is essentially God’s gift.