From the Truck to the Walls
Do you ever wonder what it takes to get an exhibition in the door and on the walls? At the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, it all starts in a dimly lit conference room where Board and staff members discuss future possibilities. The options can be as varied as those meeting and can come in all different prices, sizes, and materials. Lending agencies can be individual artists, museums, or exhibition rental companies. Potential exhibition proposals are usually received in the mail from one of the above and the curator reviews each option before the quarterly meeting.
There are several criteria that the committee considers when selecting an exhibition. We first look at the relevance to our community. Does our community have any insight in this exhibition? Will it be well attended because it’s familiar or because few know about the subject?
We can showcase an exhibition of works that can cost as little as a $1,000 or we can book one that can cost us on the high end of $30,000. The high-priced rental exhibitions are few and only occur every two to five years. While those are our general fee ranges, that doesn’t mean every museum has the same budget constraints and every year the budget is different.
The exhibition is also reviewed for the feasibility of shipping, insurance and man-power. We have a small staff and have to consider whether additional movers and packers will need to be hired, whether we will need to rent climate-controlled storage units for the crates and if our gallery space is adequately sized to accommodate the entire exhibition. If the objects are three dimensional, then do we have enough pedestals? And, is there a time slot available that works with our schedule?
Once those issues are tackled, the curator is ready to sign a contract and put the exhibition on the schedule. Amazingly, most exhibitions are booked about three years in advance. If we are producing printed materials, we sometimes need that extra time for writing, photography and publication design, but usually, we begin three to six months ahead to work on educational materials and publicity. Transportation is generally decided by the lenders and I’m alerted weeks in advance of the shipping details. Loans from local and regional lenders are sometimes transported by the museum staff. Distance, size, schedules and costs determine those choices.
Every department plays a role in mounting an exhibition. The curator books the exhibition, coordinates the retrieval of scholarly information and directs the staff in the contract regulations. The development director solicits funds from grants, businesses and individuals to pay for the exhibition. The marketing director creates press releases and ads for newspapers, magazines and sometimes billboards, as well as works with television stations to get the word out. The education staff creates learning tools to teach about the artwork being viewed. The librarian purchases books and materials for use by the staff and patrons concerning the exhibition. The building superintendent assists with the unloading, moving and unpacking of crates and hangs the objects. And the registrar facilitates insurance, the arrival, departure and storage of crates, unpacking and packing, as well as the recording of changes in condition of artworks.
Once an exhibition arrives, is unpacked and examined for changes in condition, then the curator arranges the works in a manner that is visually pleasing and understandable. Works are hung or placed, labels and signage are hung, and lights are set.
Then, it’s showtime! An opening reception and lecture are usually scheduled with each exhibition for the public. The reception gives the staff some finality to each exhibition installation and is an event that the community enjoys.
With many exhibitions, I work in storage or in the galleries for at least two weeks and sometimes three. It just takes that long to pack one show and get another one up. The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art usually mounts five to six exhibitions annually.
So you see, the exhibitions don’t just appear out of thin air, nor do they install themselves overnight. There can be other facets to the exhibition process such as construction, publications, and museum shop specialty items. These issues generally take place at large museums and occur here sporadically.
Remember to check out the Museum’s website at www.LRMA.org for classes, exhibitions and events. The Museum’s hours are Tuesday - Saturday from 10 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. and Sundays from 1-4 p.m.