A journey behind the scenes of museums to understand how the viewing of a public increasingly thirsty for knowledge and reliable information is planned

Holding an exhibition is like making an animated film: what is not drawn does not exist. Every detail, even the smallest, contributes to the narration, to the vision, to the transmission of the message-exposition. Because an exhibition is a story that conveys information (often expandable beyond the exhibition space). And the ones who create the narrative, together with the artist and her work, are the curators of the exhibition and the installations, two knowledges, two sensibilities, two visions that can be combined in a symbiosis capable of harmony and wonder.

«Curating an exhibition means first of all taking care of the visitor», explains Marco Sammicheli, curator for the design, fashion and crafts sector of the Triennale Milano and director of the Museum of Italian Design.

«And this cure», continues Sammicheli, «has undergone many transformations, ultimately thanks to a major change in the behavior of the public due to a thirst for knowledge and to greater disobedience, due to widespread dissatisfaction among the experience in museums. The public is asking for more."

This is echoed by Stefania Vasques, architect and curator of the exhibition Felicitazioni. CCCP - Faithful to the 1984-2024line, dedicated to the CCCP musical group at Palazzo Magnani in Reggio Emilia: «The installation must be nourished by feelings of welcome. Then the curator presents himself to the public in a search for interactions useful for transmitting the message.

Art allows you to communicate through the languages of involvement." Which strikes like a spark from the staging of analogue, physical elements.

The Museum of Italian Design in the Triennale is an example of this: there are details of the objects on display that you can touch.

«The desire to touch has become particularly important after the Covid pandemic and is an element of the public's disobedience», explains Sammicheli, «which translates into the need to provide museums and exhibitions with immediate opportunities that increase the permanence time of the public, less inclined to escape into the virtual world".

This is what happened in the exhibition dedicated to Alberto Meda at the Triennale where a series of elements nailed the public to the present, starting with the tables hanging on the walls without the top to be able to see the mechanism clearly.

This is what happens in the exhibition dedicated to the musical group CCCP, an explosion of its history, but above all of its overflowing creativity through its works and those of some artists involved in the project, which has the ability, first of all, to allow the public a an immersive and expandable experience beyond physical spaces despite being totally analogue. And so it also happens at Senzatomica, an exhibition against the use of atomic weapons set up in Brescia by the will of the Soka Gakkai Institute and Senzatomica Committee and the result of a very complex group work with the curatorship of Studio Pitis e Associati, to satisfy the urgency of explaining to everyone the danger of nuclear weapons.

In this case the virtual mixes with the real because some parts have been entrusted to augmented reality which integrates perfectly with the analogue part of the exhibition.

Which is an experience (complete with soundtrack composed ad hoc by Nicola Tescari): you visit in a group with 'ciceroni', as they are called by the curators, who facilitate a dialogue between the participants, until we get to sit at a discussion table: what to do to put an end to nuclear weapons? We experience activism within the exhibition spaces.

Riccardo Blumer, architect and curator of the installations of various exhibitions (as well as the one on Alberto Meda at the Triennale, together with Sammicheli) explains why and when the magic of holding attention happens of visitors.

« The exhibition is part of the message you want to give», he says, « it must enter into the themes in a critical and constructive way to allow for cultural in-depth analysis».

Naturally, as Blumer points out, it depends on the intent of the exhibition, here we are dealing with museum ones.

«So if the exhibition enters into dialogue with the curatorship and has the objective of creating an experience, it accepts the challenge of the contemporary by trying to move from involving the spectator in a journey that, at its end, makes him feel different. Why? Because the visitor is the protagonist of a transformation and becomes the author of the exhibition experience. Which is made possible by the exhibition because it is this element that transforms the exhibition intuition into an experiential condition. And which, in effect, is the founding role of architecture, our measure of the world."

Sammicheli confirms this by admitting that he works in total symbiosis with the curator of the exhibitions, capable, unlike him who assumes responsibility for a narrative vision, of seeing things in space.

Exhibitions have a very important informative and cognitive function, often extending beyond the confines of the exhibition itself, certainly with a plus: reliability.

«Museums are among the few places that people still trust, this is very important», explains Anna Barbara, architect and teacher at the Polytechnic of Milan, as well as creator, with other collaborators, of the Senzatomica exhibition, «Museums must have a social and political voice, as well as a cultural and creative one. What happens with exhibitions like this is that people interact, in an analogue and digital way, they find information but also multi-voiced narratives that tell them about the various contents. Everyone will find a voice for themselves. But then it's not enough.

The contents, many of them, must be felt emotionally, understood rationally, experienced first-hand, but also be a starting point. We must leave this exhibition with the energy of those who want to change the state of affairs".

So much so that, as Massimo Pitis (Studio Pitis e Associati), curator, specifies, the exhibition ends with a phrase: "Peace begins out here if you too are the ones to build it".

«It is the appeal that summarizes the message of the exhibition», declares Pitis, «Without this, talking about the bomb and its consequences would leave the visitor with a passive role, with only an emotional implication. What is needed is for you to come out of there with a clear perception of your potential. With the certainty that change begins with the thoughts and actions of each of us."

So if exhibitions are a medium, an organ of information, an extraordinary creative opportunity for experiential learning, what methods, languages and strategies do they have for designing visitors' viewing? According to Anna Barbara «You can guide the gaze of visitors more than planning it. This is what the designer tries to do, establish the sequence of movements, the glances, the times, the speed, the interaction with the contents and the other visitors, the lights, which build everyone's exhibition experience.

But we must be careful that the direction does not become a monologue, which forces everyone to have the same, forced experience. In Senzatomica there are more points of attention, more narratives, more accents, so that the final composition is plural and the message that everyone understands is coherent".

A gigantic work behind this exhibition of planning, analysis of sources, historical research and current affairs which required years of work and discussions to achieve the creation of a clear and articulated message.

«I, with Federica Marziale Iadevaia and my studio, took care of the creative and artistic direction», comments Pitis, «The basic idea from an aesthetic point of view was the “re-invention” of the protest manifesto, updating it to the new media. Our almost ten-year experience as art director of Wired helped us define a horizon of visual storytelling that was simultaneously very readable but also stimulating."

The same happens for Felicitazioni, a sensational stratification of the work of a musical group that has turned its political and expressive vision into an artistic fact.

They, the CCCP, curated the exhibition, gathered for the occasion after a very long silence and capable, as Vasques says, of total harmony: «The CCCP I am a single body. They dance together, each expresses himself without stepping on the other's toes and then reunites in a group identity. Very poetic. We worked on this exhibition ten hands to convey their emotions and spark interactions among a wide audience, especially those who don't already know them. We thought of a way of providing information that I would like to be for everyone. Beauty will save the world, it is a tool for creating action if understood as harmony, wonder, amazement and joy."

Museums are changing their skin to increasingly become guarantors of verified information, curators are the alchemists of an experiential narrative art and the public is the author of its own cognitive experience.

This is why museums now talk about everything: there are no topics that cannot become the object of investigation in exhibition form. As Anna Barbara explains, «There are no unusual themes for places when they are themes that concern all of humanity». And the meeting works thanks to extremely high-quality design work behind the scenes. As CCCP put it, it's a question of quality.

Information on the exhibitions mentioned:
Alberto Meda. Tension and lightness, Triennale Milano, until 24 March

Congratulations! CCCP - Fedeli alla linea 1984-2024, Palazzo Magnani, Reggio Emilia, until 11 February

Senzatomica has just concluded in Brescia but will arrive in Rome in March. With a preliminary appointment on 4/2