How Tech Ticks
BEHIND THE EXHIBIT
Signspot owner Justin Hurt stands on a ladder while installing a large tree photograph with the help of Bob Menees during the installation of “Arboreal” at Moss Arts Center.
Margo Crutchfield maintains a humble perspective of her work.
“I’m not an artist,” said Crutchfield, the Moss Art Center’s curator-at-large. “What I tell people is, I live through the artists.”
A brief examination of Crutchfield’s work, however, would suggest a craft very much assembled with an artist’s touch.
For each of the center’s roughly eight shows per year, Crutchfield and Moss Arts Center exhibition program manager Meggin Hicklin oversee the installation process that transforms empty galleries and hallways into showcases communicating not only the art, but the visions and work processes of the artists.
“What I like about it is it’s everything from A to Z. You’re doing everything from painting walls to unpacking things to examining them and figuring out where the walls go,” Crutchfield said. “Being able to invent something and then make it happen is pretty thrilling.”
According to Crutchfield, who has been the museum’s curator since it opened in 2013, each exhibition starts with the introduction of a concept or theme that precedes the gallery debut by at least two years. Generally, up to eight exhibitions are being developed simultaneously.
Long before a single piece of art is hung, Crutchfield researches works and artists, conceptualizing ways they might fit together into larger displays. Shows often draw on some unifying quality, such as style of art, topic, or issue. The center’s most recent exhibition, “Arboreal,” is centered on trees and their symbolism.
“Every exhibition takes about a year to put together,” Crutchfield said. “That’s doing all the research. That’s reading all the books. When you choose an artist to be a part of an exhibition, it is important to know everything about the artist.”
Ashley Webb, registrar and museum collections specialist, pays close attention to detail as she assesses Jason Middlebrook's “The Many Nights” before it is installed in the Moss Arts Center (Photos by Erin Williams).
Ashley Webb assesses another art piece before it is installed.
Once Crutchfield begins to identify the desired pieces for an exhibition, the “hunt” begins.
“Every object in an exhibition comes from either a museum, a collector, the artist’s studio, or from some other organization. So, you have to go out and find the object and then orchestrate borrowing them from the lenders, and that can be a complicated dance. But basically, you have to talk people out of their art and convince them to live without it for the duration of the exhibition,” Crutchfield said.
It is around this time when Crutchfield also begins to toy with the potential placement of pieces using scale models of the galleries created by students from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Choosing the art in part depends on spacing in the galleries and what will fit and where, so working with the model is essential before final selections can be made.
“The model is like a Lego set with walls that are moved around to accommodate the art. You always want something to look the best it can possibly look, and a lot of that depends on where it is in the gallery and what works of art it’s placed next to,” Crutchfield said.
Joe Kelley, head preparator and art handler, right, and Ashley Webb work together to place a large wooden piece of Jason Middlebrook's art against a wall after inspecting it.
3 to 4
The process of securing the loaned pieces continues as opening day draws nearer, as does the research it takes to begin to generate the promotional material, which includes mailers, programs, and exhibition brochures.
“It’s important to understand each work of art and understand what the artist is doing in order to fit it into a theme,” Crutchfield said. “Writing the curatorial essays for the exhibition brochures, I think, is the hardest part because it is an intellectual exercise that draws on your knowledge of art. It takes the most brain power.”
For each exhibit, more than 6,000 tri-fold exhibition announcements are created, printed, and mailed to patrons, the exhibitions art lenders, and national media outlets. A university press release is created, as well as an occasional release for the Art and Education E-Flux, an international network of 50,000-plus art professionals worldwide. There are also email blasts and social media posts that promote the exhibit closer to the opening.
Ashley Webb measures Jason Middlebrook's “The Many Nights” before it is installed.
Joe Kelley opens a box to reveal a piece of art to unpack.
The curator writes annotated labels with commentary and information on the works of art to be displayed on the walls next to the art, as well as the exhibition signage.
The real fun begins as the works for the exhibition begin to come in, often in large shipping crates constructed by professional art shipping companies.
“Unwrapping the crates is like unwrapping a present,” Crutchfield said. “It’s always fascinating! We work with a wonderful team of preparators, including Joe Kelly, Chris Cobb, Dominique Francesca, and members of the Moss Arts Center production team, to present the art in the most visually appealing way.”
Each piece is then examined by a registrar and every crack or surface aberration, right down to a fingerprint, documented in a conditioning report to ensure that there is no damage and that the art is returned in the same condition it arrived.
The signage and art are then placed throughout the galleries, for the first time bringing to life the vision two years in the works.
“It’s always exciting because, first of all, you’re thrilled to see the work after you’ve been thinking and writing about it and seeing pictures of it … and then, it’s about making sure it all looks good together,” Crutchfield said. “But, there’s always that thought, ‘was I right to think this was going to work?’”
A maquette displays how the gallery should be installed.
Meggin Hicklin, exhibitions program manager, points to the instructions for removal of an intricate piece of art.
few days and hours out
The days leading up to the opening reception are dominated by lighting, putting up labels and signage, and collecting artist-related literature for the lobby. In the hours prior, the gallery floors are cleaned and transportation to the opening arranged for visiting artists.
“And then you go home and put on a cocktail dress and try to get ready to greet people,” Crutchfield said.
The install team works together to carefully remove a stainless steel art piece during the installation of “Arboreal.”
Nails are labeled with numbers that correlate with a specific piece of art to be installed
As curator-at-large, Crutchfield represents the exhibition program at the Moss Arts Center and during the opening reception and often greets hundreds of guests from art, university, and regional communities.
“It’s a very social thing. Openings are always invigorating. You have wonderful art on view, and your community is there to celebrate with the artists. There’s lots of energy and after that, you have your dinner party to honor the artists,” Crutchfield said. “And as soon as the doors close … you’re working on the next three or more [exhibitions!]”
Most exhibitions stay up for about two to three months.
Toilet paper rolls as part of the Corner Forest piece wait to be installed as part of “Arboreal.”
What goes up must come down to make room for the next exhibition
Preparator Dominique Francesca takes down Leah Sobsey’s site-specific installation of cyanotype butterflies in the fall 2018 exhibition “Swarm.” (Photos contributed by Michael Folta).