The one-man gallery show is a nineteenth-century invention which freed artists from the tyranny of the Salon and the official commission and provided a very personal form of communication with the audience. By filling several public rooms with a range of recent works, artists could bring off an act of aesthetic self-revelation; and they’re still doing this today, and the one-man show remains the essential way we see contemporary art. But the very intimacy of the contemporary art gallery, which is, among other things, an exclusive retail shop, militates against the one-man show achieving any large-scale audience. The general public is rather isolated from the gallery scene, and so there has grown up, parallel to this primary experience of contemporary art, a secondary experience, in the form of the museum show—whether an annual, biennial, theme show, ten-year survey, or mid-career retrospective. For the...


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