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Into Darkness: Affect and Dark Space in Holocaust Exhibitions

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Since 1990, many Holocaust exhibitions have featured dark spaces. This article considers the development of these dark spaces and their display function at two institutions: the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC. By examining shifts in exhibition lighting, a correlation can be found between brighter displays addressing the broad sociopolitical context of Nazism and darker displays focusing more on individual experiences of the death camps. Drawing from phenomenology and museology, this article argues that museums utilize darkness to lead visitors to particular affective experiences and to provoke inquiry into the meanings of the Holocaust.

Keywords: Holocaust museums; affect and museums; curatorial ethics; darkness; exhibition lighting; museum architecture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Newcastle, Australia

Publication date: October 1, 2015

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  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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