By Dinah Casson. Lund Humphries, December 2020. 208 p. ill. ISBN 9781848224346 (h/c), $59.99.
Reviewed March 2021
Carling Spinney, Reference Assistant, Queen’s University Library, email@example.com
As an exhibition and museum designer based out of the UK, Casson draws upon a wealth of first-hand experience in this exploration of what she terms “unanswerables.” She does not set out to explain what exhibition design is and how to do it, nor is it an autobiographical narrative (though many examples are pulled from Casson Mann, the author’s design consultancy founded with partner Roger Mann). Rather, it is a series of essays written for the general museum visitor intended to provide insight into an often unnoticed and undiscussed craft. Casson does not present any clear answers to the questions posed, but her many examples (illustrated with colour photographs on almost every page) expertly demonstrate varied perspectives. The author argues for the museum visitor to think critically about what is shown, to question what is written, and to analyze where and how objects are displayed.
Each of the six chapters examines a specific element of exhibition design, such as labels, frames, and the use of facsimiles, as well as practical considerations of windows and coat checks, all of which greatly affect the overall exhibition. Chapter three, while an interesting discussion of the impact coat checks can have on visitors’ experience of an exhibition, was significantly shorter than the other chapters. At only two pages long, it may have been worth expanding this section into a longer analysis or omitting it entirely. Subsequent sections include: Museums Mentioned in the Text, Notes, Bibliography, Picture Credits, and Index.
Overall, two main themes emerged throughout the book: theatre and emotion. Casson frequently ties in connections between exhibitions and theatre, as both are tasked with telling a story. She also weaves in the importance of making emotional connections between exhibition and visitor. Emotional engagement makes for a memorable and effective exhibition, one of the most ephemeral forms of cultural expression.
Closed on Mondays is a straightforward read written for a non-expert audience. It is not especially academic or theoretical making it well suited for novice to intermediate levels in museum studies, design, or adjacent fields. Although intended for museum visitors in general, it is hard to imagine readers picking up this book without a pre-existing vested interest in this subject matter. The real-world, detailed examples get into the nitty gritty of exhibition design and, although not especially applicable outside of academic and museum library collections, are wonderfully helpful and intriguing for both professionals and students in the field. For example, Closed on Mondays, will be a great resource for students in museum studies programs with practical components such as co-ops or exhibition projects. Museum libraries would also benefit from adding this publication to their collection.