Why do we make such a hash of “British” exhibitions? Neal Potter’s letter (opposite) sums up the frustration of many exhibition designers involved with Government-backed shows. We have the creative talent, but not the will or experience to use it well.
Potter’s comments on the British pavilion at the current Lisbon Expo echo those already voiced by RPA Europe’s Gerry Postlethwaite (Letters, DW 31 July), among others. But they have particular potency, given that Potter, an international exhibition design star, has done a lot of work for the Portuguese organisers of the event.
I haven’t been to the Lisbon Expo yet, but visited the Seville forerunner in 1992. That time the British pavilion itself was outstanding – a stunning building by architect Nick Grimshaw, commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry. Not so enticing were the contents – apart from Rodney Kinsman’s Seville bench, designed to perch short-stay audiences on, in front of a video show. Nothing seemed to quite fit the space – least of all displays by sponsors such as Marks & Spencer. There was obviously little co-ordination from the top.
Sound familiar? That is exactly the criticism being levelled against the New Millennium Experience Company with regard to the Greenwich Dome. The design groups involved have the will to do great things. But none of those involved has any sense of the whole enterprise. As was the case with the Seville pavilion, when details of Nick Grimshaw’s building were kept from identity creator The Jenkins Group by the DTI, the NMEC is overly reluctant to let its designers share their visions.
For many Dome designers, creating events is an unusual experience. Shops, restaurants and other interiors are more their bag. Potter and his like are more accustomed to dealing with Whitehall mandarins and museum curators, and several have exercised their judgement by opting out. Government patrons therefore lose out on learning from some of the best people in the business.
Exhibition designers bemoan the lack of creative folk with interpretive skills to work on current projects; enlightened curators regret a similar failing in most museum staff. In fact, only one course teaches interpretation – at Hull where Potter is visiting professor.
But, as Potter says, it takes two to tango. If the Government wants to showcase the best of British overseas, maybe it should send commissioning civil servants to Hull or set up its own training. Why not set up a regular forum, with the likes of Potter, to open the hearts and minds of officials who oversee the work. Otherwise, why bother.