Don Heron has worked for the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) since 1993. Before then he was a painter, having done a degree in visual arts. He started working in exhibition installation, the precise and physical work of hanging artworks before moving into exhibition design. He is now the head of exhibition design – with six installation designers, six graphic designers, and four multimedia and web designers in his team, all of which, he wanted to stress, are imperative to their work. They cover exhibitions in both the QAG (everything pre- 1975) and Gallery of Modern Art (post-1975).
Exhibition design is an unusual corner of design, because the best should be a near unnoticed construction with the focus on the artworks themselves. And even Heron admits that sometimes, his role sees him pare the designs back to amplify their invisibility, to ensure the artworks remain the star attraction. And yet, just because the hierarchy here has to bow to the art, that doesn’t mean to the design is banal or beige. Indeed, with the recent opening of the Prado exhibition at QAG, much of the foyer has been painted with an acidic red that leads you to the exhibition. Here, what may on first glance seem a relatively traditional series of spaces, has actually been designed specifically for the exhibition. Walls were moved and rebuilt, generous archways and amplified porticos lead viewers from one space to the next. The colours too, are bold and deep – a change from the usual white-walled gallery – and underscore the atmosphere and theme in each room, whether regal or religious, as well as being chosen as a link between this Antipodean place to the old Spanish gallery.
Interestingly, the galleries have been working on more contemporary additional resources to further give context to the paintings on show including a sumptuous tableau of fruits that visitors can draw, or a photobooth that inserts your face into a historical portrait. And if all this still seems like too much effort, rest those weary feet at the authentic Spanish tapas bar and drink a glass of Spanish red.