The Exhibition as City and the City as Spectacle

Spooner, R. (2016) The Exhibition as City and the City as Spectacle. Association for Art History Annual Conference, Edinburgh, UK, 7-9 Apr 2016.

Full text not currently available from Enlighten.


Phenomenally popular between roughly 1850 and 1950, International Exhibitions were important precursors to present-day biennials. Looking to Glasgow's culture of exhibition-making, the paper proposed here seeks to map this history by making connections between the city's Victorian and Edwardian exhibitions and what could be considered their inheritor, the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. Popularly known as GI, this event was initiated in 2005 and now operates as a biennial dedicated to showcasing work by local and international artists, and creating a dialogue between the two. The principal buildings of an International Exhibition were routinely objects of fascination and attracted as much attention as the items they contained. Thus, the experience of moving through the grounds – taking in the fantastical sights and sounds, no doubt indulging in a moment's people-watching – was key to an exhibition's appeal. This remains the case, with an "appetite for art as experience" fuelling the "biennial culture" that GI is a part of (Jones 2010: 69). Whereas Glasgow's early exhibitions were self-contained entities, GI encompasses multiple venues all across the city. By often making use of former industrial buildings GI highlights an image of Glasgow authorities a century ago sought to suppress, mounting International Exhibitions that utilised otherworldly architectural styles to divert attention away from the soot and smog of the real-life city. This paper therefore considers the physical context of these events, and examines how in both iterations the exhibition mediates the visitor's experience and understanding of the urban environment. In short, it asks what shadow the spectacle casts over the surrounding city.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Additional Information:Research paper delivered as part of the session 'The City in the Biennale: Architecture, Geography and Identity'.
Keywords:International world's fairs, biennials, Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, culture-led urban regeneration, festival architecture.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Spooner, Dr Rosie
Authors: Spooner, R.
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Information Studies
Related URLs:

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record