Museums with permanent collections have usually a small fraction of the artworks they own on public display at any one time. Sometimes long term exhibits of portions of the museum's own collection are called "permanent" exhibits. The rest of the collection is stored in vaults, or portions of it are on tour. Many museums also organize "special" exhibitions which have a specified time frame.
Many museums have the financial resources and staff to organize exhibitions held at their own facility. Others host exhibitions organized elsewhere. Some institutions also have the ability to plan and manage exhibition tours. While museums sometimes tour exhibitions that they have organized, they usually do not manage the touring of exhibitions organized by others.
When a museum rents an exhibit from a tour organizer the museum's curator may enhance the exhibit by adding works from the museum's own collection or from the collections of other owners. Sometimes the museum will present a derivative exhibit along with the rented exhibit.
There are many elements to planning and executing an exhibition. Some elements include:
The non-profit Exhibition Alliance has created a video which, according to the American Association of Museums,
The Exhibition Alliance also has a web page containing "technical briefs" which are illustrated and helpful for learning how to prepare artworks for exhibition and shipping. They have prepared a page including a budget worksheet to help in planning and management of exhibitions.
For more on exhibitions see also see TFAO's Planning, Organizing and Touring Art Exhibitions.
Other non-profit organizations besides museums may also originate or present exhibitions. The can be arts centers, historical societies, libraries, and even airports. 
A list of museums that exhibit American representational art may be found at the Museums Index of Resource Library. 
Exhibition catalogs and related paper-printed documents
A historic staple of exhibitions is a paper-printed document either for sale to the public or given out free in galleries holding an exhibition.
Exhibition catalogs are generally cloth-bound or paperback books that are made for sale to the public and brick-and-mortar libraries. They usually have illustrations of art objects in an exhibition coupled with one or more scholarly texts. Parts may include a table of contents, foreword, preface, introduction, one or more essays, a checklist, images of the artworks in the exhibit, a bibliography and index. Some have few texts but most always images.
Brochures are more modest in scope than catalogs, have fewer pages, and may be for sale or free. Brochures may have essays although not as many in number as catalogs. Images of all of the artworks in the exhibit may not be included.
Gallery guides are lesser in scope than brochures and are usually available on a stand or wall container in the galleries of the exhibit. Sometimes they are free to the public and may be taken from the premises. In other instances they are restricted for use in the galleries of the exhibit. Restricted gallery guides may have plastic coatings on the pages to lessen wear and tear due to extensive handling.
As of 2011 relatively few catalogs and brochures are published online, although museums are more frequently opting for that approach. For more information on online publishing please see TFAO's Digitizing initiatives not intended for profit and Digitizing initiatives with revenue and profit aspects. TFAO has a page on the benefits of online publishing of essays from museum exhibition catalogs.
From About.com Shelley Esaak offers explanations of exhibition catalogs as well as other forms of catalogs including auction catalogs catalogue raisonnés (singular pronunciation: cat·uh·log ray·zohn·ay) and collection catalogs, For discussion on the merits of catalogs, including online and paper printed catalogs and essays from both museums and commercial galleries, see Artworld Salon's blog titled "Exhibition catalogs: Time for a rethink?"
If you are interested in discovering brochures, catalogues or gallery guides published concerning American representational art topics or artists, go to Resource Library's search box and type in the name of the topic or artist combined with the keyword "brochure", "catalogue" or "gallery guide". Historically, catalogues have been published on paper. As of 2011, a variety of tablet devices such as the iPad and dedicated readers such as the Kindle and Nook have gained market traction. In the future, catalogues will be published in eBook format as well as on paper, or solely as eBooks. Also, some museums are publishing catalogues online.
To make the most of your visit to an exhibition
If you are touring, you will find American art venues to visit Indexed by State within the United States. Call the museum in advance to see if you can:
Always verify dates directly with museums before visiting their exhibitions. Exhibit opening and closing dates in magazines and online calendars may be inaccurate. Sometimes exhibit closing dates are extended. Other times exhibits are canceled altogether.
Museums often have closed days. Mondays are common in the USA but sometimes there are other closed days or multiple closed days. It's a good idea to arrive early or late in the day when there are less crowds. Many museums have tours for school children in the morning, causing increased traffic. Some museums have evening hours and many offer free days throughout the year.
When arriving you can get an idea of what the museum considers it's most cherished works by scanning the postcards in the museum gift shop. Or take a look through books that describe the museum's collection. Larger museums have kiosks, brochures, and even computer rooms for viewing the collection on a screen.
Search Resource Library to read articles and essays about many of these exhibitions.
Don't forget your tablet or smartphone. At some exhibits with thick crowds it's hard to comfortably read wall panels and extended object labels. Increasingly, visitors are using mobile devices to solve this problem by either reading the texts online distant from the art objects while in the galleries or before their visit. For several years Resource Library has provided this solution for numerous exhibits, plus related information, at no charge to the public.
How to Visit an Art Museum is a 28-minute video produced at the Art Institute of Chicago which helps visitors make the most of every art museum visit. "In this video you will learn how to see more of what is in a painting using simple techniques, how to plan museum visits around your special interests, how to appreciate the pleasure of gallery walks made alone or with others, how to look at art in different ways and come away with greater understanding, how to develop your imagination through art's power to surprise, how to make new discoveries in works of art you feel you already know, how to deepen your feelings for art through the many activities offered by museums, how to create your own art as part of your visit, and how to help young people feel at home in museums -- whether you are a parent or a teacher. (right: box cover of How to Visit an Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com)
Return to Museums Explained
1. See the Academies, Associations, Ateliers and Societies Index of Resource Library for names of other non-profit organizations which may originate or present exhibitions.
2. Resource Library is an Internet-based publication devoted to American representational art. The publication includes aspects of both a popular magazine and a scholarly journal and maintains a balance between both emphases. Resource Library is published as a complimentary public service without a subscription fee by its nonprofit owner and publisher Traditional Fine Arts Organization. Resource Library 's content time line spans the Colonial period to the present and covers significant artistic achievement in every state of the Union, while building an interconnected body of knowledge including, but not limited to, the relationships of American artists to their teachers in European and American art centers, schools and ateliers. The publication provides a comprehensive record of American museum exhibitions and evolving cultural emphases within its field on interest. References to the specific art museums listed above contain links to pages in the publication.
3. quote courtesy Audio Visual Institute of DuPage.
Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. (TFAO) neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.
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