Stephan Blumenschein: Why Do We (Still) Make Exhibitions If Nobody Shows Up After the Opening? The Exhibition Opening as a Medium


Advisor/tutor: Sven Lütticken
Arnhem, June 2018


This thesis is an attempt to examine the exhibition opening in order to understand it as an independent medium, and further still, identify with the terminology of Lars Elleström, ‘the exhibition opening as a qualified medium’.(1) The desire to engage with the exhibition opening as an independent medium emerges from a reality faced by many, shared by artists, and curators alike, “Why do we (still) make exhibitions if no one shows up after the opening?”(2)

Very few artists or curators are able to show their work exclusively within art spaces that maintain a consistent drip/flow of visitors beyond the opening and therefore, this event is often the most public moment when presenting an artwork in an exhibition. In other words, it is during this moment when most people encounter the work of an artist or/and a curator. To further explore the question, “Why do we (still) make exhibitions if nobody shows up after the opening?” I want to outline the difference that I distinguish between the “opening” and the “exhibition”. A clear distinction can be defined by taking the amount of visitor-bodies present within the space; Where the opening hosts many – when almost everybody turns up; and the exhibition, when almost nobody shows up. Thus, the opening has an audience and the exhibition, ideally, a single viewer. However, we know this question continues to connect these terms and this is its very contradiction. We do not make a distinction between the opening and the exhibition, or  more precisely, the exhibition subordinates the opening.

(1) Lars Elleström, „The Modalities of Media: A Model for Understanding Intermedial Relations,“ in Media Borders, Multimodality and Intermediality, ed. Lars Elleström (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), 11-50.

(2) There is no empirical data that can verify this experience, but it has been confirmed to me in many conversations by a wide range of persons active and involved in the art fields ranging from mid-size art institutions to local artist-run spaces.