Art Exhibition Class

Exhibition Planning &
Gallery Management

MODULE 6: Semiotic / Structuralist review & proposal





Listen to the in-class lecture and participate in the class discussion.

Students have to turn in their art review or show proposal each week.

You should be ready to present your finished review or show proposal in class every week.


[  ] Write a 1 page review of an artwork or works in town using semiotics as a crtitical method of analysis. 


[  ] Make a show proposal poster about your favorite favorite genre/structure of art from a semiotic point of view.



Goal: The aim of a semiotics or structuralist art review is to examine how the structure of an art works operates as a meaning making system.

Preparing to Write:

  • The very first question to ask is how a work or works of art are composed of signs that act as signifiers, and what are they supposed to be signifying?
  • Another way to say the same thing is what is the image supposed to be of, and what is it trying to say with the elements from which is composed?
  • Try to be specific in describing how the language of the picture is structured and what is the author doing with that language? In other words, what are the elements that you find to be familiar, and where has the author taken the liberty to take that way of making art out on parole, i.e. out for a free walk?
  • What are the basic units of the image and the relationship between them (Syntax-Syntagm relation), and what are the meanings that issue from those units?
  • How does that system hold together in space and time (Synchrony) as an identifiable system of meaning and how has the artist intervened and transformed the system over time (Diachrony) in order to give it new meaning?


Writing Tips:

Writing a Semiological or Structuralist analysis consists of accounting for three relations:

Relating the world to the image

  • How does the iconic function of the picture relate to something we may already know about from the world, i.e., what does it have a resemblance too?
  • How do the indexical elements of the work refer to the technique used in making an object, i.e., how does what is made show you that it was as a system of signification? 
  • How do the function of the work or works of art and how they were made add up to become a symbol or at least become recognizable to the point of providing a rhetorical experience of the image, i.e., how do they produce an effect or make a statement rather than merely provide visual information?


Relating the image to the author

  • Does the work represent a transition in how we understand style and the overall unity of the work?
  • Do we sense behind the work the presence of the author in the signs of the work's making?
  • Can we “read” what the message of the work is, what it connotes (or is indicative of), and what it denotes (it’s many associative meanings)?


Relating the image to yourself

  • What did the Operator of the image (it’s maker) want you to get out of the subject of the image, i.e., it’s full spectrum of meanings?
  • Does that image create a punctum for you, a moment of rare identification with one aspect of the image that transcends the system of signs from which is composed? Is there a moment where the whole is more than just the sum of its parts as signifiers and that which is signified.
  • Do you feel that your experience of the picture leads you to a deeper understanding of it’s essence, or it’s noeme (“thought”, “purpose”, or “design”), such that it transcends the ideological system embedded in every image by allowing you to see beyond the pictorial codes that were used to construct it


Hint: In doing a semilogical analysis you are looking for how the image is made up of pictorial codes that begins with the play of signifiers and signifieds. This analysis looks at how a work of art relates to the world, to the author and finally to yourself, i.e., you ability to decode visual intentions. 

Art Review: 3-5 paragraphs, 1.5 type, 3-5 pictures when possible.




















Optional Reading (Art 560):

[  ] The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction. By Laurie Schneider Adams. Chapter 7: Semiotics I: Structuralism and Post-Structuralism

[  ] Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Chapter 2: Structuralism 




Online Resources

Art and the Semiotics of Images: Three Questions About Visual Meaning

Semiotics Wiki

Semiotic Analysis of Images

The Semiotic Method





Video Resources

Meaning of Signs, Symbols, Icons, Index | Little Art Talks

Semiotics Theory

Visual Semiotics

Very Short Introduction to Semiotics

Saussure, Structuralism and Semiotics




Structuralism as Method

This method of writing is usually used to describe a genre of art and its conventions, and how those conventions from a structure that conveys meanings through it's sign, symbols and indexical mark making systems. 




CLASS DISCUSSSION - How much does the meduim, genre or style influnece how we understand meaning? 

Examples of shows that are based on a genre, structure or style. 


Genre Shows 



Qianlong C.H.A.O: New Media Art Exhibition, National Palace Museum, 1,699,499.


700,000 +

Picasso and the Masters, Champs-Elysees, 2009, 780,000 visits 


600,000 +

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, (Landscapes) Royal Academy, London, 2012, 601, 000 visitors


500,000 +



David Shrigley, Life and Life Drawing, NGV International, 599,399.


Matisse: The Cut-Outs, Tate, 2014, 562, 662 visitors (plus 15.000 watched it in theaters)



Isaac Julien, Ten Thousand Waves, Museum of Modern Art, 485, 832.






Inventing Impressionism, National Gallery, 175,617.


Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyke to Cezanne, 160, 594.



Premonitions: Ukrainian Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, 137,438.




The Vatican Collections: The Papacy and Art, The Met, (1983), 896,743


Cultural Treasures

The Treasures of Tutankhamun, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. 1976-77, 836,000 visitors in 117 days.


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