In the first half of the twentieth century, exhibition design served a central and multivalent function: As spaces of the public sphere, exhibitions offered sites for aesthetic experimentation, for the confrontation with new technologies, and for the dissemination of propaganda materials. Rather than elaborating a medium per se, artists who turned to exhibition design sought tactical, site-specific—even project-specific—interventions in the pressing questions of their present, and they did so by positioning their work within the terms, materials, and technologies then active. One need only consider the approaches articulated in such diverse texts as El Lissitzky's 1926 manifesto-like “Exhibition Rooms” or Herbert Bayer's 1937 treatise “Fundamentals of Exhibition Design” to appreciate the privileged role and cultural currency of this formal strategy through the middle of the century.

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