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The Rise of the Must-See Exhibition Blockbusters in Australian Museums and Galleries

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

AUTHORS: Anna Lawrenson and Chiara O'Reilly

Blockbuster exhibitions are ubiquitous fixtures in the cultural calendars of major museums and galleries worldwide. The Rise of the Must-See Exhibition charts their ascent across a diverse array of museums and galleries. The book positions these exhibits in the Australian cultural context, demonstrating how policy developments and historical precedents have created a space for their current domination.

Drawing on historical evidence, policy documents and contemporary debates, the book offers a complex analysis of the aims and motivations of blockbuster exhibitions. Its chronological approach reveals a genealogy of exhibits from the mid-nineteenth century onward to identify precursors to current practice. This provides a foundation upon which to examine the unprecedented growth of blockbusters in the latter half of the twentieth century. The examples discussed offer a unique opportunity to study how institutional growth, political support, individual champions and audience interest have influenced the development of large-scale temporary exhibitions.

The Rise of the Must-See Exhibition considers blockbusters as an international phenomenon and, as such, is highly relevant to practitioners working across the cultural sector around the world. The book will also appeal to academics and students engaged in the study of museums and galleries, arts management and curating, as well as those interested in the history of exhibitions and cultural policy.


Anna Lawrenson is a Lecturer in the Museum and Heritage Studies Program at the University of Sydney. Her career has spanned critical museology and applied practice, having worked in academia and the arts sector. Her research is concerned with how the history, funding and administration of public museums shapes public engagement through exhibitions and programs.

Chiara O’Reilly is as Senior Lecturer in the Museum and Heritage Studies Program. Her research has grown out of an interest in the complexity of the French Romantic movement and currently has a specific focus on the history of museums and galleries, institutional collections and exhibitionary space.

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