An exhibition, in the most general sense, is an organized presentation and display of a selection of items. In practice, exhibitions usually occur within a cultural or educational setting such as a museum, art gallery, park, library, exhibition hall, or World's fairs. Exhibitions can include many things such as art in both major museums and smaller galleries, interpretive exhibitions, natural history museums and history museums, and also varieties such as more commercially focused exhibitions and trade fairs. They can also foster community engagement, dialogue, and education, providing visitors with opportunities to explore diverse perspectives, historical contexts, and contemporary issues. Additionally, exhibitions frequently contribute to the promotion of artists, innovators, and industries, acting as a conduit for the exchange of ideas and the celebration of human creativity and achievement.


In British English the word "exhibition" is used for a collection of items placed on display and the event as a whole, which in American English is usually an "exhibit". In both varieties of English each object being shown within an exhibition is an "exhibit". In common usage, "exhibitions" are considered temporary and usually scheduled to open and close on specific dates. While many exhibitions are shown in just one venue, some exhibitions are shown in multiple locations and are called travelling exhibitions, and some are online exhibitions. Exhibitions featuring especially fragile or valuable objects, or live animals—may be shown only during a formal presentation, under the close supervision of attendant or educator. Temporary exhibits that are transported from institution to institution are traveling exhibits.

Though exhibitions are common events, the concept of an exhibition is quite wide and encompasses many variables. Exhibitions range from an extraordinarily large event such as a World's fair exposition to small one-artist solo shows or a display of just one item. Often a team of specialists is required to assemble and execute an exhibition; these specialists vary depending on the type of said exhibit. Curators are sometimes involved as the people who select the items in an exhibition. Writers and editors are sometimes needed to write text, labels and accompanying printed material such as catalogs and books. Architects, exhibition designers, graphic designers and other designers may be needed to shape the exhibition space and give form to the editorial content. Organizing and holding exhibitions also requires effective event planning, management, and logistics.[1]


The Paris Salon of 1787, held at the Louvre

The exhibition came fully into its own in the 19th century, but various temporary exhibitions had been held before that, especially the regular displays of mostly new art in major cities. The Paris Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts was the most famous of these, beginning in 1667, and open to the public from 1737. By the mid-18th century this and its equivalents in other countries had become crucial for developing and maintaining the reputation of contemporary artists. In London the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition has been held annually since 1769, and the British Institution ran temporary exhibitions from 1805 to 1867, typically twice a year, with one of new British painting and one of loans of old masters from the Royal Collection and the aristocratic collections of English country houses.

By the mid-19th century many of the new national museums of Europe were in place, and holding exhibitions of their own collections, or loaned collections, or a mixture of objects from both sourcers, which remains a typical mix today. The "Chronology of Temporary Exhibitions at the British Museum" goes back to 1838.[2]

Entrance to Horology Exhibition. Paris World Exhibition, 1889

The tradition of the Universal exposition "world Expo" or "World's Fair" began with the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London; these are only held every few years. The Eiffel Tower in Paris was built for the Exposition Universelle (1889) and served as an entrance arch.

Modern exhibitions may be concerned with preservation, education and demonstration, early exhibitions were designed to attract public interest and curiosity. Before the widespread adoption of photography, the exhibition of a single object could attract large crowds.[3] Visitors might even be overcome with Stendhal syndrome, feeling dizzy or overwhelmed by the intense sensory experience of an exhibit.[4] Today, there is still tension between the design of exhibits for educational purposes or for the purpose of attracting and entertaining an audience, as a tourist attraction.

Art exhibitions


Art exhibitions include an array of artifacts from countless forms of human making: paintings, drawings, crafts, sculpture, video installations, sound installations, performances, interactive art. Art exhibitions may focus on one artist, one group, one genre, one theme or one collection; or may be organized by curators, selected by juries, or show any artwork submitted.

Fine arts exhibitions typically highlight works of art with generous space and lighting, supplying information through labels or audioguides designed to be unobtrusive to the art itself.

Exhibitions may occur in series or periodically, as in the case with Biennales, triennials and quadrennials. The first art exhibition to be called a blockbuster was allegedly the 1960 Picasso show at Tate in London.[5]

Interpretive exhibitions

"At Last-10th Anniversary of Marriage Equality in Minnesota," exhibition interpretive panels

Interpretive exhibitions are exhibitions that require more context to explain the items being displayed. This is generally true of exhibitions devoted to scientific and historical themes, where text, dioramas, charts, maps and interactive displays may provide necessary explanation of background and concepts. Interpretive exhibitions generally require more text and more graphics than fine art exhibitions do.

The topics of interpretive graphics cover a wide range including archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, history, science, technology and natural history.

Commercial exhibitions

Göteborg Book Fair, Gothenburg, Sweden

Commercial exhibitions, generally called trade fairs, trade shows or expos, are usually organized so that organizations in a specific interest or industry can showcase and demonstrate their latest products, service, study activities of rivals and examine recent trends and opportunities. Some trade fairs are open to the public, while others can only be attended by company representatives (members of the trade) and members of the press.

Online exhibitions

Duluth Lynchings, an online exhibition at the Minnesota Historical Society

Online exhibitions are virtual presentations of artifacts, artworks, and other objects typically found in museums, galleries, and archives.[6] They utilize the internet to display collections and educational content, making them accessible to a wider audience than physical exhibitions. Online exhibitions can take various formats, including digital images, scanned documents, 3D modeling, and even virtual reality experiences.[7]

The rise of online exhibitions is attributed to several factors.  The internet's global reach allows museums to share their collections with geographically dispersed audiences.[8] Additionally, online exhibitions can overcome limitations of physical space, allowing for the display of vast collections or large-scale objects that might be difficult to exhibit traditionally. Furthermore, online exhibitions can offer interactive features, educational resources, and accessibility tools not readily available in physical exhibitions.

While online exhibitions offer numerous advantages, they cannot fully replicate the experience of a physical exhibition. The physical presence of objects, the curated layout of a gallery space, and the social interaction of a museum visit are all aspects missing from the online experience.  Nevertheless, online exhibitions serve as a valuable complement to physical exhibitions, expanding access to cultural heritage and fostering a deeper appreciation for museums and collections around the world.[9]

Virtual museum exhibitions


A virtual museum is a digital institution dedicated to exhibiting objects and collections, similar to a physical museum, but existing entirely online. Virtual museum exhibitions utilize digital technologies to present collections and narratives in an online environment. These exhibitions can be permanent or temporary, showcasing a wide range of topics and objects.[10]

See also



  1. ^ Bartsch, Frank (31 May 2013). "Exhibition and Event Logistics". BB Handel. Archived from the original on 7 June 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  2. ^ British Museum Research Publication no. 189 Archived 19 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine, "Chronology of Temporary Exhibitions at the British Museum", PDF
  3. ^ Mondello, Bob (24 November 2008). "A History Of Museums, 'The Memory Of Mankind'". NPR. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  4. ^ Squires, Nick (28 July 2010). "Scientists investigate Stendhal Syndrome – fainting caused by great art". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  5. ^ "Museum Bookstore". Archived from the original on 28 April 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  6. ^ "Virtual or Real? The Future of Exhibitions". KunstLoft magazine. 1 March 2023. Retrieved 17 July 2023. {{cite web}}: |first= missing |last= (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "". Medium. 6 August 2023. Retrieved 17 July 2024. {{cite web}}: External link in |title= (help)CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ Donihue, Ross. "Collections define a museum". ArcGIS Blog. Retrieved 17 July 2024.
  9. ^ Chapel, Justine (18 March 2024). "Art in the Digital Era: Exploring the Rise of Online Exhibitions". CaFÉ™. Retrieved 17 July 2024.
  10. ^ Magazine, Smithsonian; Nalewicki, Jennifer. "The World's First Entirely Virtual Art Museum Is Open for Visitors". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 17 July 2024.


  • Ng-He, C., Gibbons, B. (2021). Exhibits and Displays: A Practical Guide For Librarians. Rowman & Littlefield.