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Blog: the art of the pop-up exhibition

2 February 2012

Ele Cooper visits ‘After Michelangelo’ at UCL Art Museum and finds that ‘pop-up’ isn’t always shorthand for questionable design and flapping waiters.

Visitors at the 'After Michelangelo' pop-up exhibition at UCL Art Museum

Image: visitors discuss a work on display at the pop-up exhibition. Below: Gwen John's Studies after Michelangelo drawings (EDC3451v, UCL Art Museum)

On Tuesday I visited a pop-up exhibition entitled ‘After Michelangelo’. I am generally apprehensive about the ‘pop-up’ prefix: restaurants and shops seem to use it as an excuse for poor presentation, slapdash products and frankly bizarre service. Not so at UCL Art Museum, where Antony Hudek, UCL Mellon fellow, and Fabien Pinaroli, artist, curator and researcher, had put together something really rather interesting.

The flyer said that the exhibition would “consider the role of the university print room in the context of today’s global circulation of visual information”. This was achieved through showcasing a collection of blown-up, black-and-white photocopies of works found via keyword searches on ‘Michelangelo’ – not works by the artist, but works based on or inspired by his art. Supplementing these were pieces attributed to Marcantonio Raimondi and drawings by Pontormo.

“We tried to approach the subject almost randomly,” said Hudek. “For me, the excitement in this exhibition comes from knowing that we can recognise images without knowing about them, without any specialist knowledge. It’s very fragmented, but I think that’s the point of it: when you only have an hour, you can’t do much more than simply share some ideas.”

Gwen John's Studies after Michelangelo drawings (EDC3451v, UCL Art  Museum)

As well as provoking a double-take reaction in myself and the students wandering around – it’s always strange to see a work you think you know and then notice subtle differences just as you’re moving onto the next piece – the photocopies were intended to remind visitors of the importance of the photocopier itself, which, according to Hudek and Pinaroli, has become almost obsolete.

This might seem like an obscure issue to be concerned about, but that’s the joy of pop-up exhibitions at UCL Art Museum: the amount of time you have in which to make your point (just one hour) is so small that it doesn’t matter if no one gets it (which, I hasten to say, wasn’t the case on Tuesday).

Andrea Fredericksen, from UCL Art Museum, explained to me that anyone can set up a lunchtime pop-up exhibition using works from the college’s collections. While discovering obscure pieces is fascinating in itself, curating a pop-up exhibition is also a fantastic way of engaging with students, helping them to see their subject in a different light and simply getting them out of the lecture theatre and into a more inspiring setting.

Hudek for one is enthused. As ‘After Michelangelo’ was closing, just 60 minutes after it had opened, he told me, “Setting up a pop-up exhibition is a really exciting opportunity for anybody. Most of us don’t know what the Collections hold, so it’s a voyage of discovery. That’s how we actually did this show: we were learning as we went along.”

As was I. And all without a surly waiter in sight.

If you would like to find out more about organising a pop-up exhibition, contact UCL Art Museum by emailing

Page last modified on 02 feb 12 15:36

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