Writing an art exhibition review is a creative experience that helps you express your ideas about an artist’s work. Your review will provide a description and critical analysis of an art exhibit. This helps visitors know what to expect from the exhibit and gives feedback to the artist. To write an effective art exhibition review, visit the exhibit, take detailed notes, and talk to the artist, a docent, or a curator, if possible. Then, discuss your observations and opinions in your review and revise your work before finalizing it.
Part 1 of 3: Viewing the Exhibit
Read your assignment sheet before reviewing the exhibit for a class. Read your assignment sheet at least twice to make sure you understand what your instructor expects. They may want you to focus on certain features of the exhibit, depending on the topic of the class. Review the criteria they’ll use to grade the assignment so you’ll get full credit.
- If you have any questions, ask your instructor so that you don’t accidentally make an error on your assignment.
Walk through the exhibit gallery to make observations about the art. Block off 1-2 hours to experience the art exhibit so you have plenty of time to examine the artwork. Move through the exhibit slowly, examining each piece of artwork. Additionally, watch how other people are reacting to the exhibit.
- Make several passes through the exhibit so you can make new observations and connections between the works.
- Look at the art from different angles and distances. While it’s important to examine each piece closely, you also want to take in the entire exhibit as a whole to see how the artist evoked their theme.
Take notes on the description, form, content, and your impressions. Be as detailed as possible so you can use your notes to write the full review. Write down the medium, materials, and techniques used to create the piece. Then, note the title and theme of each work. Finally, record your reaction to the art, how it made you feel, and what worked or didn’t work within the piece.
- Document how the artist created each image, such as how they used lines, shapes, colors, shading, textures, patterns, and light. You’ll use this information to develop your discussion on form.
Ask yourself questions like:
Why are the works of art ordered or arranged this way?
Does a particular work stand out from the rest?
Is there a theme or a subtext to the exhibition?
Does the theme or thesis become obvious as I walk through the space?
How is this exhibition different from others I’ve seen?
Identify the main idea and important themes of the exhibit. Write down your own impressions of the exhibit’s main idea and themes. Then, read the artist statement and exhibit description provided by the gallery to learn the artist’s intended themes. Compare your interpretation of the exhibit to the artist’s intentions.
- Ask yourself questions like the following: Based on what I see, what do I think the artist is trying to say? What does the exhibit make me think about? How do I feel?
Talk to a docent or curator to learn more about the exhibit. A docent or curator will have more in-depth knowledge about the exhibit that they’ll be happy to share. A docent can tell you the information they normally point out to visitors. Similarly, a curator can give you more insight into the installation process and the challenges they faced. Ask to talk to a docent or curator and take notes on what they say.
- Ask a docent questions like, “What was the artist hoping to achieve in this exhibit?” “What inspired the artist to create these works?” and “What are the core pieces of this exhibit?”
- Ask a curator questions like, “Why did you arrange the artwork like this?” “What challenges did you face while installing the exhibit?” and “What instructions did the artist give for hanging their work?”
Notice how others are reacting to the art for the spectator response. While you don’t need to include spectator responses in your review, it may help you bolster your own critique of the show. Similarly, it might help you make your review more relatable if you’re writing it for a publication. Watch how others are reacting to the exhibit and write down the things you hear them say.
- For instance, do you notice visitors avoiding a certain piece? Are they drawn to some pieces more than others? Which pieces are generating conversation? What types of comments do you overhear?
- If you’re planning to publish your review, ask fellow visitors to give you quotes that you can use for your review. Get their name so you can credit them.
Talk to the artist if they’re present at the exhibit. If you attend on opening night, you may meet the artist. If so, chat with them about what inspired their work, what they hope the audience will experience, and how they created their work. Take notes on what they say so you can use this information to write your review.
- Wait until after you view the exhibit so that your initial impressions aren’t influenced by the artist.
Tip: Read the artist statement for more insight into what inspired the exhibit.
Read other reviews on the exhibition to find out what critics are saying. Do a quick Internet search to find out what other critics are saying about the exhibit. If it’s a traveling exhibit, look at the reviews from prior installations. Use their ideas to help you complete your own analysis of the exhibit, but make sure you draw your own conclusions.
- Your review should focus on your own ideas, not on what other people said.
Part 2 of 3: Drafting Your Review
Answer the who, what, where, when, and why. This will provide your reader with a general overview of the exhibit and where they can find it. Tell the reader who the artist is, what style of art they make, where the exhibit is, when it takes place, and why people might be interested in the show. Include this information in your paper’s introduction.
- Write, “Agatha Tompkin’s The Friends You Have opened at the Contemporary Art Center on Friday, August 23rd and runs through November 1st. Her watercolors and mixed media works explore modern relationships and how communities differ.”
Describe the exhibit so visitors know what to expect from it. Discuss the physical specifications of the art, the form, and its content. Additionally, explain how the artwork is installed in the gallery, such as how it’s hung or displayed. Then, specify how visitors can interact with the work.
- You might say, “Tompkin’s watercolors are grouped on two adjacent walls in simple 11 by 14 in (28 by 36 cm) black frames. Hanging on the opposite walls, her mixed-media work consists of 5 by 7 ft (1.5 by 2.1 m) canvases that are arranged in a line. Visitors can walk alongside the artwork for a visual experience.”
Tip: While many artworks are meant to be viewed, there are other ways to interact with art. Sometimes art is meant to be listened to, and you may be immersed in an installation. Think about how you’re interacting with the artwork in this exhibit.
Present a critical analysis of the exhibit and its thesis. Discuss your opinions about the exhibit and how well the artist presented their ideas and themes. Explain whether or not the exhibit provides new interpretations or fails to realize its goal. Support your analysis with facts or observations from the exhibit.
- Explain the artist’s stated thesis and how well they expressed it in their exhibit.
- Identify parts of the exhibit that worked well. If there were works that didn’t support the main idea, explain how the artist could have better incorporated them.
- Consider how this exhibit relates to art history as a whole. Where would it fit in? How does this art compare to existing works? How does it express common themes?
Discuss the challenges the curator may have faced during installation. You may be able to omit this information if the exhibit was easy to hang. However, an exhibit that has large pieces, moving parts, or a wall installation may be hard to hang. Consider what the curator had to do to install the exhibit and how it may have differed from past shows. Then, explain these challenges in your review.
- For instance, a curator may not face any unique challenges while hanging framed oil paintings on a wall. However, they might struggle with installing a sculpture that hangs from the ceiling or an installation that has moving parts.
- You might write, “While the framed watercolors were easy to hang on the exhibit walls, the curators struggled to install the single mixed-media sculpture that Tompkins created from found objects. The sculpture is designed to look like it’s floating between the ceiling and the floor, so it must be hung using thin wires.”
Part 3 of 3: Revising Your Review
Follow the formatting instructions for your assignment. Use the formatting instructions provided by your instructor or publisher. This might include using standard 1 in (2.5 cm) margins, double-spacing, and 12-pt Times New Roman or Arial font. However, check your assignment sheet to make sure.
- If this is for class, your instructor likely told you which style guide to use. Format your paper and any citations that you use according to the rules for that style guide.
Ask a fellow art student or critic to give you feedback on your work. Give your review to someone who has experience in writing art exhibition reviews so you can get feedback. Ask them to identify areas that need improvement, as well as errors that need to be corrected. Use their feedback to revise your paper.
- Don’t ask someone who’s unfamiliar with art exhibition reviews to critique your paper because they may unintentionally give you bad advice.
Revise your review if changes are necessary. After you get feedback, go through your paper and improve areas that aren’t working well. Address areas that the reviewer pointed out, but also revise sentences that you think could be better stated.
- Reading your review aloud will help you spot areas that don’t flow well. Re-write these sentences to make them better.
Proofread your review before submitting it. After you complete your final draft, read over it again to make sure there are no typos or other errors. Read it out loud to make it easier to notice mistakes. Then, correct your paper if necessary.
- Try to get someone else to proofread it for you because it’s hard to spot your own errors.