Art Institute of Chicago
April 21 – September 9, 2012

Parcours –a French word for “route” or “path”–in the United States designates an educational or exercise trail, a loop marked by sights or gymnastics, always with explanatory texts and often with diagrammatic drawings as well. It is, one could say, an outdoor exhibition circuit for the improvement of one’s mind and body. The Art Institute of Chicago’s own Parcours–a sort of model exhibition and conceptual art project–presents a similarly conceived itinerary indoors and online. Parcours–masterminded by contemporary artists Liz Deschenes and Florian Pumhösl–not only encourages visitors to walk through a mini “labyrinth” with a sparse hanging of photographs in the Modern Wing’s Carolyn S. and Matthew Bucksbaum Gallery (Gallery 188), but to also participate in a conversation between the artists and the curator. The exhibition will be open to the public from April 21 through September 9, 2012, while the online discussion forum is already available , and continues to be updated as the show draws near opening day. Both components of the project are supervised and moderated by Matthew Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Department of Photography at the Art Institute.

Parcours takes inspiration from an unrealized 1930s exhibition proposal by Austrian-born Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer. Bayer conceived of a gallery space configured into a maze, with text and the works of art serving as a guiding thread for visitors. Expanding on this premise, Deschenes and Pumhösl selected photographs from the permanent collection of the Art Institute, such as Florence Henri’s Self-Portrait (1928), and László Moholy-Nagy’s Untitled (c.1923/25), and placed them like route markers on temporary walls modified expressly for this show. The artists’ own works–a set of specially tempered glass panels by Pumhösl and lustrous photograms by Deschenes–will reflect these works and the surrounding space.

Outside of the physical gallery, Parcours takes the shape of a web module that, like the path through the exhibition, documents a journey replete with unexpected twists and turns–in this case the complex endeavor of planning a museum exhibition. The numerous communications between artists and curatorial staff, as well as discussions between departments at the Art Institute, are presented online to illustrate the course that an exhibition takes from initial idea to opening day. Online visitors can sift through transcripts and email chains that discuss the gallery floor plan, the works on display, and travel arrangements; read promotional copy; and view graphic design of exhibition materials. An ongoing blog provides a forum for discussion throughout the run of the exhibition.

“The notion to put all of our discussions, image suggestions, and other documentation online came simultaneously with the realization that this would be an emphatically didactic exhibition, a show about the constraints of making a museum show,” said Matthew Witkovsky. “Part of the drive to air our deliberative process is to make transparent the reality that museum architecture, museum pedagogy, and museum acquisitions or exhibitions are complexly motivated and therefore far from neutral or self-evident.”