Exhibitions Department: Behind-the-Scenes

Did you ever want to know how an exhibition is set up? Or wonder what everyone's doing behind the closed doors of an upcoming show? Kip Peterson, Collections Manager/Registar here at the Brooks, finally shines some light. Kip is not only super smart, but she's also really funny and nice. Read on -- I guarantee pure enjoyment.

Ever wonder what happens once an exhibition has finished its tour? Well, Mr./Ms. Art Lover, many months of planning go into the take down, or de-installation, of a show. I’ll use Venice in the Age of Canaletto as an example.

Planning for the return of the artworks to each lending institution began about a year and a half before the exhibition opened at the Brooks on February 14, 2010.

Once the doors to the public close, the behind-the-scenes work begins. First, all of the artwork is checked, or condition reported, by a registrar to determine if any changes to the condition of the piece have occurred while on view at the museum. Once that process is completed the museum preparators, or exhibition art handlers, re-pack the work in the crate provided for travel. But wait, I’m jumping ahead, I want to tell you about the many details that happen before we repack the art.

After contacting several art transportation companies for both cost estimates and possible travel dates, an art transport company was selected. Then I contacted each museum registrar informing them that my preliminary plans had their loan being returned sometime during the last two weeks of May 2010. At that time I also asked if the museum intended to send a courier (registrar or conservator) to oversee the packing of their artwork. Granted, it was a bit early, but the exhibition was scheduled to close in May…as in…Memphis in May, and a limited amount of hotel rooms are available in Memphis! Out of the twenty museums lending to the Canaletto exhibition, eight responded that they would require a member of their staff to be present at Brooks when their artwork was re-packed for the return shipment home. Working with the assistant to the director I was able to secure the hotel rooms ahead of time. Check, scratch that off my list!

Next, I determined the exact route that each of the five trucks used to return the artwork to the lending museums, keeping in mind the value of each artwork, due to a predetermined value cap allowed per truck. One of the most important parts of the return process is finding the shortest, thereby hopefully the safest, route by which the artwork will travel. Additionally I must arrange with each museum for their delivery on a particular day, at a certain time, in order to fit their schedule as well as the truck schedule. Each climate-controlled truck will also have a courier – a museum Registrar – riding with the two drivers, overseeing the delivery of the artwork to the lending institution. (Little know fact: the truck has two drivers so that the truck keeps moving along the return route, another safety precaution.) Each courier has a “release” sheet listing each museum, address, contact person, phone number, crate identification number and crate size to be returned. Additionally, there are hotel reservations to make (after days on a truck one needs a shower!) and airline tickets to purchase (each museum courier needs to come home and get back to work!). Whew….

Now, let’s get back to the actual packing of the artwork by the museum preparators. Once repacked all crates are marked with the date packing is completed and a return label is attached. In this instance, because five separate climate-controlled art trucks will transport the returning artworks to the various museums around the country, the crates will also have a “color code” label … i.e. the RED label crates will be loaded on the westbound truck, the GREEN label crates will be loaded on the northeast truck, etc. In this instance it took three separate days for the five trucks to be loaded and begin the long journey home for the artwork.

I was very sad to see this exhibition come to a close. I felt like I was sending my child to her first day of school…without me…as I waved good-bye to each departing truck. This exhibition and catalogue had absorbed most of my work day for several years and now it was gone. Well, now I can look forward to Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 -- Present. What a great work life I have!

To learn more about our past, current and upcoming exhibtions, click here.

To learn about events surrounding the Who Shot Rock & Roll Exhbition, click here.

Posted by Karen Davis at 9:18 AM
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