The current exhibition, Faces in the Crowd, is composed of a selection of the newest collection of Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College’s latest acquisitions of figurative American art. In order to display many of the works, our curatorial team chose to use the salon style hang. You may have seen this method in homes, galleries, and museums. Obviously, it allows one to utilize more of the wall space, so from a functional standpoint the reasoning behind this choice in today's world is quite obvious: it allows more art. But what is the origin of this method?
The “Salon-Style Hang” is a method of hanging and displaying paintings that originated in 1667 with the beginning of the annual Royal Academy salon in Paris. The major entertainment events of the year, salons were juried showcases exhibiting the best of the best work of the year, by both students studying in the Royal Academy and by established masters. Because so many works were to be crammed into the exhibitions, walls were hung floor-to-ceiling with paintings on many scales and of many different genres. Usually the largest paintings with the grandest subject matter (history and religion) were hung highest on the wall, while more intimately-scaled work like still lifes were hung at eye-level or below.
Controlled by the ruling class but attended by all, the content of the earliest salons was often tied thematically to the propagandistic intentions of the monarchy, hoping to use the selected works to send messages subtly (or not so subtly) to the people of France. Eventually, by the 19th century, the salons became the sites of exciting artistic controversies, as established artists began daringly to break free of conventions, working subversively from within to break the rules of traditional academic instruction.
Our intentions with our own 21st salon-style hang are decidedly more innocent. Here, we create a “crowd” of paintings to showcase side-by-side-by-side the ethnic, gender, social, and stylistic diversity of our own painted “faces in the crowd.” Just as no two people are the same, our juxtapositions — hung in this old-fashioned manner — seek to highlight the vastness of American figuration and that no two paintings or painted figures are exactly the same either.