Industry Insight with Flavio Trevisan

Flavio Trevisan is an artist and an exhibition designer for the Art Gallery of Ontario. At the AGO he has designed numerous exhibitions, including Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires; Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation; Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross; and the forthcoming Brian Jungen. Flavio has exhibited his own work widely, including a solo exhibition, Museum of the Represented City, at the Koffler Gallery, curated by Mona Filip. Flavio publishes Hex Editions, an artist book project spanning over thirty titles that are in the collection libraries of the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. Flavio was a founding director of Convenience Gallery in Toronto.

Article by Lauren Bruyns

Exhibition design can be considered an art form in and of itself. Anyone who enters a gallery can see that a great amount of dedication and thought goes into creating an effective space that is pleasing to the eye and highlights the work being shown. As an exhibition designer for the Art Gallery of Ontario, Flavio Trevisan is a prime example of an individual that has the commitment and creativity for crafting efficient exhibit spaces. Since beginning his work at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2006, Trevisan has helped achieve the mandate of one of the largest art museums in North America, working with featured artists to determine the vision of their work and how the space can effectively support the artist’s idea. Trevisan is considered a 3D designer: he constructs an exhibition space in a manner similar to designing a space in a digital program. Rather than residing on a computer, though, his constructions appear in a physical space where the features themselves are three dimensional.

Trevisan helps “bring people together with art to see, experience, and understand the world in new ways.” Responsible for creating a seamless experience for visitors, he considers how groups will flow through the exhibition and museum spaces, understand the works, and interact with what is being displayed. With a background in architecture and solo art practices, Trevisan has developed a vast collection of skills and techniques for crafting effective, supporting spaces for artists’ work. He is able to envision the possibilities for a space and successfully execute it.

He states that the three main elements to consider with exhibition design are presentation, communication, and experience. Art is meant to be viewed, and with that comes the consideration of how people will observe it. The method of display can alter the viewing experience if the display is done ineffectively. This means that Trevisan must construct the perfect system to move beyond simply showing the art, and instead to move towards demonstrating what the artists want their work to say. Therefore, he works to make sure that the exhibition layout disappears so the art itself is the primary focus.

Operating with a core team consisting of a curator, an interpretive planner, and a project manager, he goes through not only the visual aspects of the space, but also its functionality. From his own sketches, he determines everything from how lighting will be rigged to the security of each piece. For example, he harnesses his creativity to create a discreet lock system so visitors cannot access work being shown within a glass case, and he has even built a suspension system for a room-length snake to hang from the ceiling for the Ai Weiwei exhibition.

As some Image Arts students are working to have their art featured in the gallery setting, the role Trevisan holds is very important for them. When an artwork is featured in a gallery, it means that the piece has a strong message that the artist wishes to present; the way this message is shared relies not only on the work itself but also on the space it occupies. Designers like Trevisan are vital in this process, as their role is to support the artist, taking the care and showing the dedication to display the works to their fullest potential. As someone who creates his own art as well as designing spaces at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Flavio Trevisan demonstrates that we can successfully use our creative skills in both personal and professional projects.

Questions & Answers

Q. As an exhibition designer, what are the key goals that you are trying to achieve in a successful design?

A. Exhibitions can communicate ideas, tell stories, and make people see things in new ways. While a curator chooses the works and formulates these ideas, it is the designer’s task to find ways to help the visitor discover these ideas for themselves. A successful exhibition manages to do this without being too pedantic, or overwhelming the visitor with information.

Q. In terms of modes and methods of display, what are some of the major challenges you face, and how is the success of the display method critical to the way in which the viewer interprets the work?

A. As I work frequently with exhibitions of contemporary art, the challenges can take quite a lot of time to sort out, and usually involve much time coordinating with the artists themselves, but also conservators, lighting technicians, security personnel, carpenters, … the list is long. New media work often has many challenges, as galleries are not always built to accommodate this ever-evolving type of work, and artists typically have very specific requirements for the presentation of their works.

A recent Francis Alÿs exhibition featured a two-channel video projection with the videos facing one another. The videos were filmed on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, so the installation echoed this geographical formation; the visitors walked between two purpose-built rooms and were confronted by large rear-projected moving images of children attempting to cross to the other side. There are many technical issues that needed to be considered in this installation. The size of the screen was designed and determined based on the amount of space that was available in the gallery, and also by the throw distances of the projectors. The detail of how the screen met the wall needed to be thought about, as did the discreet access hatch into the room to reset the equipment in the event of a technical issue. Modification to interior architecture needs to meet the building code as well. All this preparatory work must be hidden; the visitor only needs to see the art, not the display mechanisms.

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