Winner jury prize & People's choice

Emanuel de Witte: Master of Light, Alkmaar

Designed by: Studio OTW
For client: Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar Floor area: 270.00 M² Year of completion: 2017
Awarded: Exhibition of the Year Society Exhibition of the Year Jury

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© Mike Bink

Upon entering the gallery, one is immersed in an almost overwhelming atmosphere. This moment of surprise sets the tone for the visit. The open plan allows visitors to move freely, however the implied typology of the church almost automatically draws one to the perimeter.

About the Project

A temporary exhibition Emanuel de Witte - Master of Light opened in the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar at the end of September 2017. A selection of twenty-five of De Witte’s paintings is witness to his talent and diversity as an artist. He painted portraits, interiors, market scenes, but his special interest was in the church interiors. His focus on light, warm and alive, was equally the primary focus of the exhibition design.

Within the smooth, black box of the museum gallery, an abstract interior of a church evolved. On that set, the only protagonist was the light. The paintings, like altarpieces, lined the perimeter of the space. And above them, the light projection pierced the mute, solid walls with imaginary church windows.
On the walls, another recurring element of Emanuel de Witte’s creations appears - the man in a red cape. His ephemeral presence projected around the room refers to the many characters the master himself placed in his interiors. The interior is contemplative, immersive, and alive.

The game of shadows and light is played out on the floor. The light shines through the virtual windows and moves across the room. Light designers Theater Machine produced a half-hour sequence of projections mapped out over the entire gallery floor. Details of illusion are stunning including the shadows of tree branches gently moving in the imaginary wind and the clouds casting over the sun. The shadows elongate with time and disappear as the sun sets.

What’s unique about it

The theatrical aspect of the design makes this exhibition stand out. It is a hybrid. The traditional exhibition of paintings on the gallery walls is mixed with the experience of a virtual space. However, there are no props, no tangible architecture. The elements used to evoke the experience are ephemeral. With our collective memory, we fill in the blanks and read the space as that of some church where light floods through the high windows. The exhibition space is a museum gallery and a theatre set at the same time.
Through a consistent rhythm of the light projections and a careful curatorial intervention in the layout, the light projections above the paintings change the scale of the exhibition walls without marginalizing the works of art. This daring gesture and the atypical curatorial decision proved to work creating a setting where the interiors from the painting extended into the world beyond the frame.
The design is a highly abstract representation of a common typology of a church interior. Yet, it remains warm and accessible. The original church stools, being the only tangible element in the interior, reinforce the theatrical quality without falling prey to explicit reconstruction.

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© Mike Bink

In the entirely open layout, the hierarchy is achieved by grouping of works on the wall. Symmetry of the archetypical space is challenged to allow for thematic narratives. The main focus of the exhibition - the central wall holding six church interiors - is reinforced by the direction of the stools.

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© Mike Bink

The painted interiors extend in the space of the gallery.

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© Mike Bink

A continuous line of paintings allows close inspection and comparison. Their volume balances the rhythmic projection of “windows” above. The graphics high on the wall refer to the monumental inscriptions in church interiors.

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© Mike Bink
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© Mike Bink

A contemplative, warm atmosphere achieved with light.

Credits:
Studio OTW

Theater Machine

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