Current Exhibition

January 25, 2020
June 14, 2020
In the Gold Gallery, Floor 2L

During the nineteenth century, the experience of viewing artwork was very different from that found in most museum and gallery installations today.

In the United States, entrepreneurs would set up showplaces where a major painting would be set within a room or small alcove, with curtains draped on both sides to emphasize the theatricality of the setting. It was an atmosphere meant to inspire both awe and appreciation for the virtuosic talents of the artist, while also creating an intimate viewing relationship with the painting. Admission would be a nickel or a dime. Thousands flocked to these events which were held all over the country.

This experiential presentation was capable of transporting a viewer at a time before most cities could offer a museum venue, and the idea of staging art in a gallery space became increasingly significant. In turn, the emphasis on making unique experiences for the viewer influenced both what subjects and which artists rose in popularity. Landscapes and still lifes were ideal subjects for staging—one grandiose, the other intimate.

Staging Art looks at how American entrepreneurs orchestrated the act of seeing for viewers. The exhibition can be contrasted with the salon-style presentation prevalent in Europe at the time, where shows of work by the academy presented paintings hung from floor to ceiling, as can be seen in our first-floor permanent collection gallery.


This exhibition was curated by Nancy E. Green, the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints & Drawings, 1800–1945, at the Johnson, and supported in part by the Donald and Maria Cox Exhibition Endowment.