Exhibition design at the FIDM Museum


Exhibition design encompasses every element of an exhibition. Paint colors, platform shapes, cases, lighting, traffic flow and many other elements work together to support and enhance the narrative created by the objects on display. At the FIDM Museum, we are fortunate to have a full-time exhibition designer on staff. A graduate of the FIDM Visual Communications program, Horacio Avila designs FIDM Museum & Galleries exhibitions and visual displays for the FIDM Los Angeles campus. Horacio works closely with our curators to create the look and feel of all FIDM Museum exhibitions. 

The gallery itself is 8,000 square feet. If you've ever been to an exhibition at the FIDM Museum, you'll know that we generally divide the gallery into three distinct sections. You might be surprised to know that most of our interior walls are not integral to the gallery–they are built and removed depending on the needs of the current exhibition. The only real limitation on Horacio's exhibition design is the height of the gallery ceiling. Horacio and his crew fabricate nearly everything in-house; when in the midst of building an exhibition, Horacio's workshop is incredibly busy. From platforms to cases, they build it all.

In our current exhibition, the 20th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design, visitors are greeted by a wall of film posters and The White Queen's costume from Alice In Wonderland. Rounding the corner, visitors encounter a visual feast: costumes ranging over a large platform that fills nearly the entire gallery space. Selections from our collection of classic film costumes fill cases around the outside of the gallery. If you caught FABULOUS!, you might remember these cases. Horacio designed them for FABULOUS! and they were re-purposed for the current Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. In this image, costume designer Julie Weiss examines a bonnet designed by Adrian for the 1940 film Pride and Prejudice.

Julie Weiss(Alex J. Berliner/abimages)

In the image below, notice the wall cases holding FABULOUS! objects. You can also see our Alexander McQueen peacock dress in motion. A few select objects in FABULOUS! were placed on rotating platforms embedded within the larger platforms. The slow rotation of the objects created a sense of the garment in motion. Though this image makes it look like the peacock dress was whirling around at high speed, the actual rotation was much slower. The rotating platforms were a much-loved element of the FABULOUS! exhibition design.

CasesFABULOUS! platforms and cases

Notice the silver metal framing on the wall? These strips of aluminum were used to accent the gallery walls throughout FABULOUS!. For the FABULOUS! exhibition, which covered 200 years of fashion history, Horacio was conscious of not wanting to highlight or favor a specific historical period with his exhibition design. For example, if he'd selected colors or motifs appropriate to the 1890s, objects not from that period would have suffered. So, Horacio chose a scheme that was based on futuristic, industrial materials. The overall theme of his design for FABULOUS! included several shades of grey paint, and metal accents. This neutral scheme allowed the vivid colors and silhouettes of every object to pop.

The image below highlights another element of the FABULOUS! exhibition design: blue lights that glowed from beneath each platform. The platforms were constructed with steps at irregular intervals, creating height variation amongst the objects. This made it easier to distinguish the unique features of each garment.

Overview of gallery Aerial view of FABULOUS!

For our 2009 exhibition, High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture, Horacio incorporated design elements linked to Mrs. Bloomingdale. The arched windows seen in the background of the image below were based on windows in Mrs. Bloomingdale's home. The circular platform complemented the shape of the windows, while the asymmetrical elevation of the platform subtly invited visitors to move closer to the garments. Wall cases featured magazine articles highlighting the work of the haute couture designers featured on the platform.

Exhibit9-10  High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture 

As you can probably tell from these images, our exhibitions literally depend on the work of Horacio and his crew. Without their hard work, we'd simply have rows of mannequins (albeit, extremely well-dressed mannequins) lined up on the lovely wood floor of our gallery! Horacio's exhibition design creates an environment that allows each object to shine, while also making it easy for visitors to revel in the beauty of the objects on display. Thanks to Horacio and the gallery crew for all their hard work!

2 responses to “Exhibition design at the FIDM Museum

  1. Marie-Jo Dulade-Coclet says:

    “Fabulous” was a fabulous exhibit and so was the catalogue/coffee table book. Looking forward to seeing the new exhibit.

  2. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the kind words about Fabulous!

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