The Physical Display Case

Over the last 24 hours I’ve been curating an exhibition of vintage computer artefacts. Well, not really. In fact, I’ve just been repopulating the display case that I emptied when I moved it. But I have tried to apply a bit of rationale to my selections to try and get a bit of an understanding of the issues that real curators face. As is evident from the images below, this has resulted in a significantly different display from that which was in place previously.


I deliberately chose to make the new display a lot less cluttered to enable viewers to settle their eyes on just a few specific items. However, this inevitably led to what is, I guess, one of the main challenges that curators have – having to make difficult choices not just about what to include but also about what to leave out. Following on from the selection activity, I encountered a variety of other curation issues including:

  • Having to go to and from the storage area (in my case, the loft) to collect different items is a time-consuming and irritating process (my selection decisions were taken on a shelf by shelf basis).
  • Having limited shelf space means that some topics, or groups of artefacts, that would be desirable to include, simply can’t be accommodated.
  • Sometimes a choice has to be made to either put like objects together regardless of the date they were made; or to keep items from the same rough date of manufacture, together.
  • Stands or other mechanisms are required to enable objects to be displayed upright instead of lying flat on a shelf.
  • Items at the front of shelves can obscure items at the back of shelves.
  • Shelves closer to the floor are more difficult for the viewer to see to the back of, or to inspect closely.

As for providing descriptions – well that’s another level of complication I haven’t ventured into. I imagine it would significantly reduce the space available for artefacts; and decisions would have to be made about how much information to provide. My let-out for not providing descriptions is that some further information and extra images are available in the digital display on the iPad.

The job of a curator clearly requires a wealth of knowledge, skill, and experience. Right now, I’m on the very lowest rungs of that ladder.


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