How the space of museum is used is particularly interesting to me, because of my experience in the field of sociology. With the ability of the space to be used in different ways, and how layout, architecture and design of the gallery can affect a visitor’s experience (often without them knowing) is something that I find to be of importance. Space is a broad subject and often involves place, and with the gallery I discussed in my presentation, the Manchester Gallery of Costume, it was cause for discussion.
The Gallery of Costume is located in Platt Fields Park in Manchester, just off the busy Wilmslow Road. In the past this building had been a residential hall and during the 17th Century had been home to a textile merchant and his family. It contains costumes, mainly British, from this time period to the present day and is still collecting. Over the year they also run special exhibitions, which have included collections from Ossie Clark, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, with ‘Wedding Fashions 1914-2014’ being the current exhibition.
The locality of the gallery was a topic which caused discussion during my presentation, mainly because of its unique position and the connotations of this. The gallery is in the park, which has to be knowingly approached from the road and entered into, however it is visible from the road which may encourage others to visit, rather than those who have made the conscious effort to visit. This raises the question of how accessible the gallery is to visitors and its position in the city when considering the location of the other galleries and museums. Most of these institutions are located in the city centre within a small radius of each other, which I discussed as having created a ‘cluster of cultural capital’ which has been discussed by Bourdieu in his work. This means that each gallery or museum becomes more accessible because of their location and the ease of travelling from one to the next, visitors are persuaded to enter. On the other hand, this concentration of cultural capital could be seen as intimidating to an ‘ordinary’ individual if they do not possess a high amount of capital. This becomes a benefit to the Gallery of Costume and its setting. It could be considered that the gallery is an area of lower cultural and educational capital; it is next to a busy road, in what is mainly an area frilled with restaurants and retail, and therefore becomes more accessible as it is not as intimidating to enter; one needn’t possess as much capital as may be needed in the city centre. I feel that this issue is important and accessibility needs to be debated, especially to create more interest in the galleries and raise visitor figures. There are good cases for each side of the argument, but personally I feel that the Gallery of Costume is much more accessible than those in the city centre.
Going back to the original discussion of the space within the gallery, this building had been adaptively re-used and so the architecture and history of the hall itself plays a part in the experience of the gallery. This hall seems a suitable space to hold this gallery and the objects within it, because of its past as a textile merchant’s home and the Georgian architecture means there are high ceilings, not dissimilar to ones that you would find in a purpose built space. There has been some attempt at a ‘white cube effect’ to focus on the objects, but it would be impossible to ignore the interior architecture and due to its classification as a listed building it cannot so it has been incorporated. In the dining room there is a display case detailing the hall’s history and in the rooms holding costumes from the earlier periods the architecture gives some context to the pieces.
Lefebvre discusses the ‘reproduction of space’ and how space is a social product that is continuingly being reproduced in different uses and forms and this is a phenomenon that is present within the gallery. Whilst conducting my research, I found a number of groups using the space in different ways, some were using it to study objects, a family were using the tea room as a social space, some had come to see the exhibits and there was even a couple on a date. This means that the space is reproduced for every individual and is seen in many different contexts.
Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1991)
Pierre Bourdieu, The Forms of Capital (1986)