Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Idea People

Addison curator Allison Kemmerer, Wegman curators Joan Simon and Trevor Fairbrother, and Addison Associate Director Susan Faxon enjoy the Wegman exhibition.I've mentioned before that Curators are the idea people. But what exactly does a Curator do? Instead of providing a list of duties, it might be easier to show what they (see right) do by describing what a typical week for a Curator might look like:

Monday: The day is spent in meetings. The first is with the Director to discuss ideas for upcoming shows. The next is with the loans committee to decide which objects from the collection will be lent to other institutions' exhibitions. Then, there is a meeting with the Registrars and Preparators to work on the checklist, layout, and wall color for an upcoming exhibition. If there's any time left to the day, it's used to work on writing an essay for an exhibition catalogue that was due, unfortunately, sometime last week.

Tuesday: The day is spent in front of the computer (see below), first writing the wall text for a show that opens next week, next writing to a fellow institution about a show we're thinking of borrowing next year, then, if there's any time left, working on the essay.

Wednesday: The morning is spent at the library doing research for the essay. The afternoon is spent back at the museum in the galleries laying out the artwork for the show that opens next week. One of the objects on the checklist is unexpectedly unavailable for the show so the Curator cruises the collections database to find some replacements, looks at them in storage, and makes a selection. Thankfully it fits in the space allowed on the wall.

The Curatorial department...too much to do, too little time!Thursday: The day is spent traveling to New York City, first to meet with a donor to gain support for an upcoming exhibition...the one with the catalogue with the essay. The afternoon is spent at a couple of dealers looking at potential acquisitions for the collection. There are a couple of photographs that have potential so arrangements are made to have the pieces sent to the Addison for inspection. The train rides to and from the city are spent working on the essay.

Friday: The morning is spent giving a gallery talk for a group of visitors. The afternoon is spent with a donor interested in giving some artwork from his collection to the museum. Friday evening is spent having dinner with the current artist-in-residence to discuss her ongoing project on campus.

And yes, the weekend is spent trying to finish the essay.

The Addison has two Curators, one whose expertise covers artwork created before 1950, the other artwork created after 1950 and photography. We also have a Curatorial Fellow: my fellow blog poster Jaime DeSimone. And we have a Curatorial Associate who tries to make order from the chaos of all those Curatorial ideas.

The question is, where do the Curators find time to come up with their ideas? Only the Curators know. But one thing's for sure, without their ideas, their jobs may become less hectic, but the museum would be a very boring place indeed!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Faces of the Addison

My first job in the museum field was here at the Addison in 1991 when I was hired as a Gallery Attendant for the weekends. I manned the front desk and stood guard in the galleries. While was I beginning to learn how a museum worked, I also learned how the museum is seen through our visitors' eyes and what an important role the Front Desk personnel and Gallery Attendants have in their experience. They are the "faces of the Addison," keeping a vigilant eye on the safety of the artwork on our walls while greeting our visitors with a smile.

The Front Desk personnel (see right) need to be instant experts on whatever is hanging on our walls. As with most Addison staff, they have multiple jobs: they greet, they give directions, they run the cash register for the gift shop, and most importantly, they field a variety of questions: "Where is Eight Bells?" "What exactly does 'gouache' mean?" "Do you have anything by [fill in artist name here] in your collection?" And, of course, the perennial classic, "Where is the bathroom?"

The Gallery Attendants must walk that very thin line between being friendly to our visitors but being firm in their observance. When an Attendant says, "Please do not touch the artwork," it must be said in a way that does not offend the toucher but gets the point across. I was an Attendant during our Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing retrospective in 1993 where, basically, no one could touch any of the walls anywhere. And it was difficult for visitors to resist feeling the textures the multiple layers of applied washes had created. I had the most success by explaining why it was important not the touch the walls. Colors and chalk could smear. Fingerprints could appear. It was a matter of preserving the artwork so the next viewer can enjoy it just as much as the first.

Which is essentially why those of us in the museum world chose this field: to preserve the artwork for future generations. Our "faces of the Addison" are just as important to that cause as the Conservators and the Curators. And...they do it with a smile!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hitting the Nail on the Head

In my past posts, I've referred more than once to "Preparators" or "Prep crew." But who are these white-gloved-clad unsung heroes of the museum world?

If the Curators are the idea people and Registrars help to make those ideas a physical reality, then the Preparators are the folks who implement those ideas to become the actual show visitors see on our walls. They paint and light the galleries. They build the pedestals and mounts. They mat and frame the artwork. They load and offload the crates on the trucks, not easy when you don't have a proper loading dock (see right). They pack and unpack the artwork (see below), or bring it from storage, and hang it on the walls. And, at the Addison, they do double-duty as Collection Managers and are responsible, with the Registrars, for the proper storage and movement of the artwork throughout the museum. The Addison has three Preparators on staff and bring in more help during the chaotic exhibition change period.

The Addison's galleries are completely reinstalled every three to four months. This is no easy feat for our Preparators to accomplish in the condensed two to three week period between exhibition closings and openings. Installing artwork is not as simple as just hitting nails on their heads, though the heads of 5484 nails were hit during the installation of our Jennifer Bartlett: Early Plate Work show. Cranking the formulas required to double-hang twenty different objects of varying height and widths at the same horizontal mid-point on the wall is enough to drive the best mathematician crazy. Coordinating the various lifts and cranes to move a 3000 pound fragile sculpture carefully two feet to the left requires perfect art handling skills and an intimate knowledge of physics. And painting the acres of walls in our Kemper Gallery, as anyone who has tried painting a light color over a dark one can attest, can be a challenge, especially at the heartbreaking point when you realize it is going to need that third coat to look completely even.

Speaking of painting walls, two Addison Preparators recently traveled to Dublin, Ireland, to implement one of the Addison's Sol LeWitt wall drawings (#716) in the US Embassy (see right). This took several days to accomplish with very skilled hands and the result was amazing. If you ever happen to be there, make a point to stop in and check it out.

So the next time you visit the Addison and see our Preparators carefully transporting a painting through the galleries on their carpeted green cart, shake their white gloved hands and congratulate them for the jobs they do. Without them, the gallery walls would be terribly empty!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Upcoming Event: "Impressionism Comes to America"

A slide presentation and lecture in connection with the spring exhibitions An Impressionist Legacy: Lawrence's White Fund Paintings and Eye on the Collection: Landscape Impressions will be given by the Addison's Mary Stripp and R. Crosby Kemper Director Brian Allen on Wednesday, May 23rd, at 6:30 p.m. in Kemper Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Professor Rowland Goes to New York

Addison visitors are well acquainted with our famous, and large, Thomas Eakins painting Professor Henry A. Rowland (see right). The painting shipped recently to the MET in New York City to be included in Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings: The Clark Brothers Collect that opens May 22 and runs until August 19, 2007. I traveled down to the MET to see the painting installed so I thought I'd post about it to give a little behind-the-scenes look at the adventures of museum couriering.

When I arrived at the MET, I was brought deep into the maze of corridors beneath the building to the vault the Professor's crate was stored in when it arrived. The painting had shipped the day before and been given twenty-four hours to acclimate to the MET's conditions. I then accompanied the crate and a crew of Registrars and Preparators up a massive freight elevator to the galleries. One of the Registrars cut a course through the throngs of visitors to the secured exhibition space where the piece would be hung. This was no easy task: the crate was 7 1/2 feet tall by 9 1/2 feet long. The painting had to travel on its side to fit on the truck and through doorways. Needless to say, the visitors quickly moved aside when they saw this coming!

In the secured exhibition space, the crate was laid flat, the lid removed, and the Professor carefully lifted up onto a side. The corners of the frame are very fragile and are prone to crack if the piece is torqued, so the utmost attention is given to its handling. Equal pressure had to be used along the sides of the frame as it was lifted onto a cart and wheeled to the spot where it would be hung. There, one of the MET's conservators and I meticulously inspected the painting. Thankfully, it had arrived without any damage. I checked the "no change" box on the condition report, an act that warms every Registrar's heart.

The MET took over from there. With one person perched above on an electric lift and two holding the painting below, the Professor was lifted up and hung on the wall from two long copper wires. The staff of the MET are experts at what they do: within just a few minutes, the 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 foot piece was level and centered in its spot with no need for adjustment.

Someone from the Addison will need to return in August when the show closes, but until then, we know the painting is hung securely and in good hands. So the next you're in New York, stop in at the MET and see the Professor. You'll be happy, as I'm sure the Professor was, to make the trip!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Art Whisperer

When I'm asked what I do at the Addison I reply, "I'm the Associate Registrar." The next question I'm then asked is, "Is that a Curator?" I reply, "No." Finally, they ask, "Well, what is a Registrar?"

A museum Registrar, according to Dorothy H. Dudley and Irma Bezold Wilkinson's Museum Registration Methods, a book of great importance to us Registrars, is the person responsible for "the registration and the physical handling of objects as they move in and out of" the museum. The Registrar also "maintains a file of accessions, donors, lenders, and other sources of acquisition" (see our object files, above). The Addison has a head Registrar, an Associate Registrar, and an Assistant Registrar.

As Associate Registrar, I'm charged with accessioning objects into the collection (assigning those funky numbers you see on wall labels), collection inventory, database management, rights and reproductions requests, managing the archives, coordinating our object loans to other institutions, and coordinating the loans of objects to ours for exhibitions. I also handle packing and shipping arrangements (see left, a typical art delivery at the Addison) and travel with objects when needed.

The question of "what is a Registrar?" was brought up recently on the Registrars' Listserv (yes, indeed, there is a listserv for most everything). Here were some of the better answers:

-Art Whisperer
-Collections and Exhibitions Magician
-The person who makes sure nothing gets broken or lost.
-Registrars have the job of knowing where everything is…. and yelling.
-The boss of the objects.
-Collection Wrangler (see painting storage, right)
-What you get when you cross a historian with a bookkeeper.

And, my favorite: Registrars make curators' dreams come true.

Curators are the idea people: they create the exhibitions, do the research, decide what to bring into the collection, and arrange where the art is hung on the walls. Registrars help to make those ideas into a physical reality. So now you can understand why when someone asks if I'm a Curator I reply, "No, I'm a Registrar and I'm proud of it!"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

David Opdyke at Roebling Hall Art Gallery

Remove yourself from Weg-mania for a brief minute and jog your memory for the Addison's winter exhibition Models as Muse. Check out the exhibition's podcast to learn more about why and how Models as Muse merged the past and the present by creating a dialogue between the museum's famed model ship collection and four contemporary artists--Roderick Buchanan, Christine Hiebert, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, and David Opdyke--who were invited to create new work that responded to, engaged with, or was inspired by these remarkable objects and their captivating presence. Anyway, David Opdyke's Dredge (shown above), which was one of the four commissioned projects, is currently on view in Unseen at Roebling Hall Art Gallery in New York City through May 26th. In the Models as Muse brochure, Curator Allison Kemmerer wrote:

"David Opdyke's towering sculptural installation, Dredge, similarly touches upon the play between reality and illusion as it explores the issues of scale, display, and artificiality associated with the act of model making. Rifting on the antique display cases that house the Addison's ship models, Opdyke filled two updated and super-sized showcases with mashed up bits of boats from contemporary plastic model kits, some of which are modern versions of ships in the Addison's collection such as the Mayflower and the Charles Morgan."

The Addison is excited to learn about Dredge's "after-life" and invites you to stop by Roebling Hall to check it out.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Seen at the Addison: William Wegman

As promised, here are some images from both the opening reception for William Wegman: Funney Strange and our other spring exhibitions on April 27th as well as William Wegman's talk on April 29th.

Addison curator Allison Kemmerer, Wegman curators Joan Simon and Trevor Fairbrother, and Addison Associate Director Susan Faxon enjoy the Wegman exhibition.

Visitors of all ages are captivated by Wegman's projected works.

Students discuss the show...

...while others watch the work in action.

Both Wegman and Lawrence's White Fund Paintings exhibitions attracted a record number of visitors to the opening event.

Visitors explore Wegman's postcard paintings including Tilted Chair.

Kids point out their favorite Wegman images.

Patrons enjoy the refreshments outside.

William Wegman and his dog Bobbin take a breather on the Addison's front steps.

Wegman and Bobbin pose with Phillips Academy Trustees Oscar Tang and Sidney Knafel and Addison Director Brian Allen and Associate Director Susan Faxon.

During the April 29th artist lecture, William Wegman engaged a large audience as he explained the inspiration behind his works.

Addison Director Brian Allen, William Wegman, and curator Trevor Fairbrother and Bobbin field questions from the audience.

After an event-filled weekend, Bobbin takes a nap to recover.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

William Wegman talks to students about art, photography

Artist-in-Residence William Wegman meets with students from Lawrence High School

If you could spend the morning with renowned photographer, videographer, painter, and drawer William Wegman, how would you choose to pass the time? Chat about art, perhaps? Tour the exhibition, William Wegman: Funney/Strange with the artist? Or maybe photograph three extraordinary weimaraner dogs?

On Tuesday, April 24, the Addison invited art students from Lawrence High School, Lawrence, MA to do all of the above. As a part of exhibiting artist William Wegman's week-long residency and in conjunction with the retrospective of his work currently on view, the artist engaged local youth in his art and hands-on lessons in photography. Students filled an hour asking Wegman questions such as the clever, "How would you describe your sense of humor?" and the classic, "How did you DO that?!" Wegman was amiable, sincere, and enthusiastic as he patiently answered each, lending the teen artists his generous share of advice about creating art and becoming an artist. Bobbin, Penny, and Candy (three of Wegman's canine companions) listened along, occasionally joining in with a yawn or agreeable "woof."

After exploring Wegman's world of photographs, paintings, drawings, collages, and videos, the artist invited five students to assist him in his afternoon's work - photographing his three dogs in the museum and around the Phillips Academy campus. Nataly Castano, Maria Cepeda, Shawn Donnelly, Jeremy Marquz, and Yurleni Velez, all of Lawrence, volunteered as the artist's assistants for the day, helping to move equipment, operate the camera, and even pose in some of the photographs.

Throughout the week leading up to the spring opening on April 27, Wegman also met with the Phillips Academy community, talking with art classes and involving students in the photography process as well as speaking to the public during the public lecture and artist/director dialogue on Sunday, April 29. To see more images documenting Wegman's week at the Addison Gallery, visit Phillips Academy's media gallery on the school's website at

Lawrence High School's visit with William Wegman was arranged by the Addison Education Department and Lawrence High School art instructors David Meehan and John Travlos in coordination with the Elson Artist-in-Residence program which invites a contemporary artist to the museum every fall, winter, and spring to exhibit and/or create art work as well as work with students from both Phillips Academy and local public and private schools.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

"Dogged Persistence"

Stop by your local book store and pick up the May issue of Art in America. In "Dogged Persistence," art historian Roni Feinstein reviews William Wegman's work and rightly points out that it's not always about his dogs. William Wegman: Funney/Strange is on view at the Addison Gallery through July.