Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Creating an Art Exhibition

Last fall, I added a new job to my hodge-podge collection of activities.  I became the Director for the Weizenblatt Art Gallery at Mars Hill University.  "Director" is a kinda grandiose title, but the duties entail making sure the exhibits are put up, taken down, and advertised in various media, and that the receptions happen on schedule.  It's not rocket science.  It has provided quite a bit of insight into all the little things that make an exhibit a success, as well as how schools choose their shows.

The first exhibit this past fall was the biannual Faculty Exhibit.  Trying to corral a group of artists into delivering their work to a specific place by a specific time can be challenging.  Fortunately, this group of faculty members were pretty good about it.  Even better, they left the layout and installation of their works to me, the new guy, that some of them hadn't even met yet.  Now I'm of the opinion that the installation of a show is an artwork in itself.  You want each piece to have some breathing room around it, you want each to show itself to its best, and you want it to flow well from one piece, and one artist, to the next.  And that's whether the viewers are moving right to left or left to right.

(Note: you can click on the images to enlarge them).

I decided to group each artist's pieces together, first and foremost.  Then they were positioned so that there was some kind of a connection to the adjacent artist's work: similar colors, similar subject matter, similar size, whatever was "similar".  I spent quite a bit of time leaning stuff up against all the walls and then adjusting their order and spacing.  Once it felt right, I hung them.  For the pottery, I hauled out a bunch of pedestals and put them all together in the center of one of the two rooms.  This created a kinda free-form sculpture to hold all the pieces, helping to focus attention on them and allow the eye to move from one to the next.  It also provided a bit of protection: when pedestals are scattered around the room, people can/will bump into them and knock them over.  In the photo above, there are figurative photos on the left, leading to my figurative charcoal/pastel pieces, along with the "pottery island" in the center of the room.

The next show was very different.  We had Randy Shull, who has been a professional artist for a few decades now and is very experienced in showing his work.  As I said before, I think the installation is an artwork itself, and nobody knows the work better than the artist.  So I let them decide what goes where, while my role is to provide tools and other assistance to help them build the show they want.  Randy was super easy to work with: very easygoing, very professional, and well prepared.  His show was a mix of combined painting/furniture/sculpture pieces (yes, all three aspects in one work) as well as mixed-media pieces.  Here's how the opening looked:

You can kinda see here how Randy followed the same concepts: the colors in the small orange piece on the left were reflected in the large wall hanging/floor-furniture piece next to it, whose blues were picked up in the three small pieces to its right, and so on around the room.

The third show was very different.  David Hopes is a very intuitive painter, building his paintings organically.  He's also a poet, playwright, actor, and singer - an all-around Renaissance man.  David brought his intuitive sense to his installation: "if it feels right, do it".  So there was none of the careful measuring and adherence to gallery norms in this installation.  For example, most galleries will hang paintings using a 60" standard, meaning the center of the work is usually placed at a height of 60 inches.  Not David.  Some works were placed close together, some hung in places we've never hung a work before (for example, on the 6" wide end of the dividing wall), and there was one 15-ft wall that had nothing on it.  It was very free-form.  But for all that, the feeling of the installation seemed to match the feeling from the paintings.  I had some reservations, but decided to hold off until I saw how it looked.  It definitely provoked some discussion, but in all, I think letting David hang his own paintings without interference was the right call.

This week, we hung a new show.  Jay Kranyik is a photographer working with Polaroid and Fuji "instant" cameras and film.  These are small images, very intimate, with a unique sense of color.  Jay's subject is primarily urban landscapes: geometric arrangements in primary colors.  All of his 125 images were mounted on 8"x8" mats.  Jay was extremely careful about accurate positioning of every one of his images, down to the half inch.  It was the polar opposite of working with David, but then, Jay's photos are the polar opposite of David's paintings.  We had a bit of a conundrum in deciding how to hang the works on the walls, since there were no wires on the backs.  Our first thought was to use L-pins to clip them to the walls, but we couldn't find 500 pins in time.  (Yes, with 125 artworks and 4 pins/artwork, that's a lotta pins).  In the end, we went unconventional: we used roofing nails.  These nails have wide heads that overlap the artworks to pin them to the wall.  They're also a helluva lot cheaper than the L-pins.  We then set up a pedestal to show visitors his old Polaroid camera and newer Fuji camera.  For college kids, this may be the first time they've seen something other than digital!

So those are some of my experiences in managing a university art gallery.  There are a lot more aspects to it, like getting to talk with the college students, running receptions, planning exhibitions for the coming year, and handling publicity.  I'll get to some of those in future posts.

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