Reconsidering Manifesta 10: Big Exhibition Project as Narrative

Keywords: exhibition narrative, Manifesta 10, Hermitage museum, curator’s conception, museum context, Gesamtkunstwerk, audiovisual media


This article analyzes the exhibition project of Manifesta 10 (St. Petersburg, 2014) as a complex of narratives including media texts and artists’ myths and stories. Two main, mutually affecting themes of the Manifesta 10 narrative are defined as a dialog between classical and contemporary art and an idea of “total work of art” in the context of the theory of “Gesamtkunstwerk”. The basis of the theory was laid by R. Wagner, and it had later continued in contemporary cultural studies in relation to interactivity of contemporary art. Big exhibition projects transform the idea of “total work of art” into the concept of unity of different artistic elements (artistic methods, media, art spaces, mythologies, commentaries, critical texts) in the whole of the exhibition. The curator’s idea of dialog between classical art and contemporary artworks stresses the key role of the Hermitage in the project of Manifesta 10 and demonstrates benefits and disadvantages of an exhibition mega-project in a classical museum. The “big story” about the opposition of contemporary art and tradition consists of minor stories of particular projects in the exhibition. In this regard, the criteria of Manifesta 10’s critical reception and interpretation are considered. 

Author Biography

Marina Biryukova, Saint Petersburg State University
Marina V. Biryukova, Ph.D., is senior lecturer of the Department of Museum Work and Protection of Monuments, Institute of Philosophy, Saint Petersburg State University; She is also Associate Professor of the Department of History and Theory of Art, Saint Petersburg State University of Industrial Technologies and Design. Her current research concerns the relationship between the evolution of contemporary art exhibitions practice and aesthetic paradigm of the time. She is the author of the book Exhibition of Contemporary Art as an Author’s Project: Harald Szeemann and Documenta 5, Saint-Petersburg, 2013


Altshuler, B. (2013). Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions That Made Art History 1962-2002. New-York, NY: Phaidon Press.

Barthes, R. (2002). The death of the author. In: The book history reader (pp. 221-224). London: Routledge.

Basu, P. & Macdonald, S. (2007). Introduction: experiments in exhibition, ethnography, art, and science. Exhibition experiments, 1 (24), 2-4.

Bermbach, U. (1994). Der Wahn des Gesamtkunstwerks: Richard Wagners politisch-ästhetische Utopie. Frankfurt/M.: Fischer.

Booth B. (1998). Understanding the information needs of visitors to museums. Museum Management and Curatorship, (2), 139–157.

Bourriaud, N., Schneider, C. & Herman J. (2002). Postproduction: culture as screenplay: how art reprograms the world. New York: Lukas & Sternberg.

Carroll, N. (1988). Art, Practice, and Narrative. The Monist, 71(2), 140-156.

Castro, M. G., Caires, C. S., Ribas, D. & Palinhos, J. (2015). A Review of the colloquium «Narrative, Media and Cognition» — a Cartography of the Borders of Narrative. CITAR Journal of Science and Technology of the Arts, 7(2), 89-94.

Crichton-Miller, E. (2014). Emma Crichton-Miller reports from St Petersburg. Apollo, 180(623).

Danks, M. & Rodriguez-Echavarria, K. (2007). The Interactive Storytelling Exhibition Project: A Perspective on Technology for Interpretation. In McLoughlin, J., Kaminski, J. & Sodagar B. (Eds), Technology strategy, management and socio-economic impact (pp. 93-106). Budapest: EPOCH/CUBIST Publication.

Dean, J. T. (2003). The Nature of Concepts and the Definition of Art. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 61(1), p. 29.

Edmonds, E., Zafer, B. & Muller, L. (2009). Artist, evaluator and curator: three viewpoints on interactive art, evaluation and audience experience. Digital Creativity, 20(3), 141-151.

Falk, J. H. & Dierking, L. D. (2000). Learning from Museums: Visitor Experiences and the Making of Meaning. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press.

Finger, A. (2006). Das Gesamtkunstwerk der Moderne. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Fulton, H. E., Huisman, R. E. A., Murphet, J. & Dunn, A. K. M. (2005). Narrative and Media. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Greenberg R., Ferguson, B. W. & Nairne, S. (1996). Thinking about exhibitions. New York, NY: Routledge.

König K. (2014). In: Manifesta 10. The European Biennial of Contemporary Art. St. Petersburg. The State Hermitage Museum. Exhibition Catalogue. Cologne, Koenig Books, p 24

König, K. (2015). Conception. Retrieved 24 November 2015 from

Koss, J. (2009). Modernism after Wagner. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lockard, R. A. (2013). Outside the Boundaries: Contemporary Art and Global Biennials. Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 32(1), 102-111.

Manifesta 10. (2014). The European Biennial of Contemporary Art. St. Petersburg. The State Hermitage Museum. Exhibition Catalogue. Cologne: Koenig Books.

Mateas, M. & Sengers, Ph. (1999). Narrative Intelligence. AAAI Technical Report FS-99-01. Retrieved 15 November 2016 from

Mateas, M. & Sengers, Ph. (Eds.). (2003). Narrative Intelligence. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Publishing.

McKay, A. (2007). Affective communication: towards the personalisation of a museum exhibition. CoDesign, 3(1), 163-173.

Mirzoeff, N. (Ed.). (2002). The visual culture reader. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

O'Neill, P. (2012). The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture (s). Cambridge, MS: MIT Press.

Piotrovsky, M. B. (2014). Manifesta 10. Retrieved 12 November 2016 from

Reese, E. B. (2003). Art takes me there: Engaging the narratives of community members through interpretative exhibition processes and programming. Art Education, 56(1), 33-39.

Roberts, D. (2011). The total work of art in European modernism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Rugg, J. & Sedgwick, M. (2007). Issues in curating contemporary art and performance. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Shagina, E. (2015). Manifesta 10: From the Sublime to the Actual. Retrieved 12 November 2016 from

Scott, M. K. (2012). Engaging with pasts in the present: Curators, Communities, and Exhibition Practice. Museum anthropology, 35(1), 1-9.

Smith, B. (2007). The state of the art in narrative inquiry. Narrative inquiry, 17(2), 391-398.

Smith, M. W. (2007). The total work of art: from Bayreuth to cyberspace. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sohareva, T. (2015). Alien in the Hermitage. Retrieved 12 November 2015 from

Spierling, U. & and Iurgel, I. (2003). Just talking about art - creating virtual story-telling experiences in mixed reality. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Vol. 2897. Berlin: Springer.

Stickley, T., Hui, A., Morgan, J., & Bertram, G. (2007). Experiences and constructions of art: A narrative‐discourse analysis. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 14(8), 783-790.

Thompson, J. (ed) (2005) Manual of curatorship: a guide to museum practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Vanderlinden B. & Filipovic, E. (eds) (2005). The Manifesta decade: debates on contemporary art exhibitions and biennials in post-wall Europe. Cambridge, MS: MIT Press.

Ventzislavov, R. (2014). Idle Arts: Reconsidering the Curator. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 72(1), 83-93.

Wagner, R. (1850). Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft. Leipzig: Wigand.

Zuliani, S. (2015). Manifesta – The European Biennial of Contemporary Art. RICERCHE DI S/CONFINE, 6(1), 228-241.