Title labels identify the name of the exhibition. The best titles will arouse interest and curiosity and give enough information to enable visitors to decide whether they are interested enough in the subject matter to enter…

Beverly Serrell, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach

A good title should clearly introduce the topic and content of the exhibition, but at the same time it should be sufficiently distinctive to spark potential visitors’ curiosity. Peruse the sites listed below for some good examples.

Brief Description

It is helpful to write a brief description of your exhibition. This description can be used in brochures, on websites, blogs, or other publicity venues and can also appear on a poster. The brief description should only be two or three sentences long, and articulate the main idea of the exhibition and why it is important or interesting.

Example Descriptions

Organized by the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, Our Treasures features 30 of the top artworks in the MMAA collection, chosen by the museum’s executive director Kristin Makholm. The exhibition includes works by such artists as Paul Manship, Robert Henri, Grant Wood, Louise Nevelson, George Morrison, Christo, and Wing Young Huie.

(From Our Treasures: Highlights from the Minnesota Museum of American Art)

In Running the Numbers, artist Chris Jordan creates intricate photographic prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs, visually depicting statistics that dramatize aspects of contemporary American culture.

(From Running the Numbers: Portraits of Mass Consumption)

Presenting contemporary art, historical books and photographs, charts, and scientific visualizations, this exhibition considers the powerful role of vision and the visual in exploring celestial realms. Artists and scientists, seeking truth beyond the visible and the tangible, offer fresh perspectives on astronomy and give new life to poetic celestial metaphors.

(From Seeing is Knowing: The Universe)


Introductory or orientation labels set up the organization and tone of the exhibition…Quick, clear orientation is a very important feature for visitors, but many people will not stop to read a long introduction because they are being drawn into the exhibit by many competing sights, objects, and sounds…

Beverly Serrell, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach

An introduction placed near the entrance is a useful way to unite and provide context for an exhibition, but brevity is the key.  It is recommended that introductions be limited to 150 words or less, as is the case with the examples below.

Example Introductions

Mali is a thriving center for photography in Africa. Since studio portraitists Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé were embraced by the international art market in the 1990s, a local art photography movement has blossomed. In 1994, Bamako became home to the pan-African photography Biennale, focusing the spotlight on native talent and on continent-wide achievements in the medium. Every two years, the Biennale has also spawned additional photography programs, institutions and exhibition opportunities.

Photographing the Social Body embodies the fruitful collaboration between curators Laurel Bradley, Director and Curator of the Perlman Teaching Museum, and Allison M. Moore of the University of South Florida, a scholar who focuses on Malian photography since the establishment of the Biennale. Candace Keller of Michigan State University contributed her expertise on studio-based photographers to the project. The exhibition depends on the talents and generosity of the photographers in the exhibition, and others in Mali who assisted the curators while in Bamako.

(From Photographing the Social Body: Malian Portraiture from the Studio to the Street)

What happens when 21st century students, some exploring photographic portraiture and the others reading 19th century British novels, employ contemporary photographic techniques to create portraits of the novels’ characters?

This interdisciplinary exhibition celebrated the creative collaborations between students in John Schott’s Digital Photography Workshop and students in Susan Jaret McKinstry’s Victorian Novel.

The 19th century was the age of the novel. These novels explored the issues of the day, including science, religion, political and social reform, gender, identity, and the role of art. The novels shaped readers, education, printing practices, and social history around the world, and they are still widely read, translated into many languages, reprinted in new illustrated editions, redesigned as graphic novels, and reinterpreted in film versions.

The 19th century was also the age of photography. In 1839, Daguerre took the first photograph of a person, and by mid-century photography was a popular and expensive hobby. Photography was an essential element of Victorian novels, with author portraits as frontispieces, advertisements, and posed “character” portraits as selling points for the novel’s truthfulness and social force.

(From Direct Address: 19th Century Characters, 21st Century Portraits)

Group Labels

Section or group labels inform visitors of the rationale behind a subgrouping of objects, paintings, or animals. Why are these things shown together? is a common question in the backs of visitors’ minds, and it needs to be answered to help visitors feel comfortable, competent, and in control of their own experiences…

Beverly Serrell, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach

Example Group Label – “Democracy”

The art of the 1980s was shaped profoundly by an exploration of democracy. Although it is an ideal held sacred by many, democracy is also challenging, for at its core it asks us to respect and protect the rights of those we disagree with.

For many artists, public spaces such as the street became arenas in which to facilitate encounters with art outside of the rarified space of the museum, and in this section we see artworks that use posters, graffiti, and everyday language to broadcast a social message as widely as possible. This interest in the public sphere was complicated by many artists’ observation that, increasingly, television was replacing the street or the public square as a primary site of democratic debate.

Some artists grappled with the new role of the mass media in both political and artistic arenas. The issue of belonging—of who has rights to what, where, and when—lies at the heart of the democratic enterprise. Such issues were to be sorely tested in the 1980s along numerous fronts. Several artists whose work appears in this section made explicit use of immanent critique, a strategy, exemplified by the civil rights movement, that attempts to hold government responsible for remaining true to its highest principles.

What all of the artists represented here shared was the belief that art can and should serve as a catalyst for philosophical and political debate.

(From This Will Have Been: Art, Love, & Politics in the 1980s)

Object Captions

Captions are specific labels for specific objects (e.g., artifacts, photos, and phenomena), and they are commonly used in all types of museum exhibitions. Captions are the “frontline” form of interpretive labels because many visitors wander around in exhibits, without attending to the linear or hierarchical organization of information (title, introduction, section label). If visitors stop by only when something catches their attention, the information in caption labels must make sense independently–as well as work harmoniously with all the other labels.

Beverly Serrell, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach

For examples, please see this PDF of captions from past Carleton exhibitions.