As a museum curator, one of my ongoing challenges is to create effective titles for my shows. I have the same issue with my writing as well, but it's much easier to get away with a long, rambling title on an academic paper intended for specialists than it is for an exhibit on view to more generalist audience. Good exhibit titles should be succinct, but also catchy enough to pique your curiosity.
Titles can be just as challenging for works of art. Most of the titles for my own works are just descriptions of what you see, whether it's Yarn with Sycamore Seeds or Bear and Friar Lobster. I personally find it fascinating, then, when artists choose to call their work Untitled. Titles can tell viewers a great deal of information, whether it’s the name of the sitter in a portrait, or a mood or feeling that an artist wishes to convey, so it can be a bit unnerving when there is no title present to relay that information. In some cases, admittedly, the original name has been lost over time, but for many artists, the decision to leave a work untitled is a deliberate one, encouraging viewers to create their own meanings based on what they see.
This lack of a name is the theme of a new exhibit at the RMAC called, appropriately enough, Untitled.
I first considered the idea over a year ago, while we were hanging a monotype exhibit in one of the galleries. I noticed that at least half of the works in that show were called Untitled, and wondered what it would like if I took a selection of nameless works and hung them all together. The result is hanging in Hunter Gallery.
I wanted to do more, however, than simply hang a bunch of paintings without names. Many of the pieces featured in this show are abstract or nonobjective, which can sometimes intimidate viewers. Unlike more naturalistic-looking works of art, which are often inspired by the things we see around us, the links that abstract art share with our daily lives are not always so clear. At first glance, it may be difficult to feel a connection with an abstract work because it doesn’t seem to reference anything we know, at least not right away. It challenges us to look closer and create meaning.
In creating Untitled then, I wanted to encourage visitors to engage with the works in front of them. This is why I’ve invited viewers to title the pieces. We’ll be posting images of the works from the show online, and we’ll invite visitors to type in their thoughts on them. I’m also planning on leaving a comment box in the exhibit space, along with paper and pencil, so that viewers can write down their invented titles during their visit. By titling the works, visitors are encouraged to interact with the pieces and create their own meanings based on what they see. In my opinion, looking at art should be an exchange between viewer and object, with the goal being to get a reaction, a response, from the viewer. Even if you don’t like a particular work of art, you’ve still responded to it, and that reaction merits recognition.