chapter  2
18 Pages

Locating art: The display and construction of place identity in art galleries

ByCHRISTOPHER WHITEHEAD

This chapter will address the relationships between art on display in museums and galleries, identity and geographic location with reference to concepts of place identity. It will focus on the ways in which place identities are constructed in displays of art, building upon the notion of place identity as a political and social construction (and in this case specifically a curatorial one) intended to allow people to make sense of their connectedness to place in ways which inform identity construction. Within this conceptual framework I will discuss Art on Tyneside (AOT), a display dating from the early 1990s but still (at the time of writing) in existence today in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne (which, along with the neighbouring town of Gateshead, forms a large post-industrial urban centre in the north-east of England). The display makes explicit reference to local places and appeals to visitors’ place identities, and provides a platform to address the questions: why and how are place, community and identity actively connected in this gallery display? What rhetorical means are used to do so and what does this say about institutional views of audiences, community and belonging? Also, what are the relationships between the gallery itself as place and the external places which are the focus of its displays? The chapter then examines the representation of place in displays as prompts and suggestions for visitors’ own constructions of place identity. This is seen to relate, tacitly, to the wider historical context of late twentieth-century Tyneside as a place of (amongst other things) social, economic and psychological hardships. The exploration of AOT will show how the interplay of political actions at institutional, museological and disciplinary levels functioned as an attempt to broker new forms of access to new audiences, through prompting visitors to engage in place-based identity construction processes, effectively locating themselves within time, space and (art) history.