"Art and the Power of Placement" by Victoria Newhouse

Art and the Power of Placement

Art and the Power of Placement by Victoria Newhouse

Although I refer to this book often, it both intrigues and frustrates me. Something of a companion to Victoria Newhouse’s impressive tome on architecture, Towards A New Museum (1998), this 304-page book is filled with photographs and illustrations, thorough research, and insightful writing about the effect of physical context on artwork. One particularly enlightening chapter presents a methodical comparison of various installations of paintings by Jackson Pollock in private homes, commercial galleries, and museums. Two critics—one in Art in America and the other in the New Criterion—proclaimed, “no museum professional should be without this book” and that it should “be an obligatory read for all who have anything to do with the placement of art.” However, as a previous reader rightly noted, the majority of the photographs Newhouse employs lack the most important element of context: viewers. And the final section of the book, entitled “Placing Art,” which includes short segments on topics like wall color, scale, and labels, reads more as a brief compendium of exhibition “do’s and don’ts” than the thoughtful analysis in the earlier chapters. Maybe my problem is I just don’t like being told what to do.