Greenback America

Greenback America- The Problem of Paper

By Chris Graham
Greenback America Guest Curator

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The other day a colleague asked me what this exhibit will have in the way of three-dimensional artifacts. Well, we’re working on that, but at this point we must admit that we do have a topic that lends itself to two-dimensions—paper currency, handbills, sheet music, political ephemera. Further, we don’t have anything you might deem “iconic”—no George Washington’s dentures; no Nat Turner’s Bible. Needless to say, we don’t find anything compelling about the conventional display style for anonymous two-dimensional objects in cases, and our imperative is to discover ways that will make paper objects transcend their “flatness” in surprising ways.  

We want to appeal to imagination, or aesthetics. Leslie Bedford, author of The Art of Museum Exhibitions, appeals to the use of artistic formulations in educational exhibits: 

The aesthetic experience is not about teaching—the didactic telling—but closer to facilitating—the experiential showing or doing. This is a major reason stories work well; they provide for the listener’s interior space, the imagination, to function and create an experience. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, for imaginative engagement to happen if someone else is telling you what to think.

We don’t want to lose sight of sociality in the space, so we’re thinking of ways to incorporate actual artifacts (with all environmental controls, of course) into social interactives.  But we’re also giving ourselves over to imagining creative, artistic, ways to display artifacts, to compel the visitor to stop in her tracks and say “wow, that’s unexpected! I’m seeing Civil War stuff in new ways. ” Isolate a single artifact in a case and bathe it in a sacred light. Assemble multiple objects in a way that tells a story without words. Bring together pieces that, in their unexpected pairing, cause a double take. These are just starting points for thinking about this. We actually have one concept well underway, but you’ll just have to wait for that one.

Where have you seen mundane artifacts displayed in awe-inspiring ways?