Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to put a work of art on view.  To our visitors, it should seem oh-so-easy: You see painting A (something you love) one day, and on your next visit it’s replaced with painting B (something you love even more). But behind the scenes, it’s anything but. As you relax and take in the holidays, here’s a little piece of our frenetic world to consider. (And as a little holiday bonus from me to you, all images are from 1983—enjoy!)

*Curator pursues work for acquisition (almost always a gift)
*Registrars arrange transport to the museum
*Conservator studies work
*Curator convinces Board of Trustees – Committee on Collections work is worth acquiring
*Registrars execute legal documents for transfer to SAM
*Work is accessioned
*Registrars begin documentation records (paper and electronic) for work
*Work is photographed (sometimes by me. You don’t want to see these photos.)

*Conservator treats work, as necessary (image 1)
*Collection managers find a permanent home in storage for work (for all  the times it’s not on view)
*Archival techs give work a nice, acid-free bedding
*Curator decides when and where work will be shown

Exhibition plans, 1983, Photo: Paul Macapia

Exhibition plans, 1983, Photo: Paul Macapia

*Exhibition designer and Curator determine how the work will be shown (image 2)
*Curator writes object label for gallery (Curatorial editor edits object label; Curatorial coordinator formats object label and has it printed
*Mountmakers fabricate individual, anti-seismic mount for work

Exhibition designer (and currently our venerable head of the Museum Services Division) Michael McCafferty installs rhyton in a case, 1983, Photo: Paul Macapia

Exhibition designer (and currently our venerable head of the Museum Services Division) Michael McCafferty installs rhyton in a case, 1983, Photo: Paul Macapia

*Art preparators install mounted work in gallery (image 3)
*Viewers come and see work in museum
* Wash rinse repeat

 Are you a little exhausted by all this? Maybe a little wound-up? Just relax, and remember that we’ll take care of all of this for you—you don’t have to worry about a thing. But next time you visit our galleries, maybe think about this process… and how we went through it thousands of times for the museum to look the way it does.

Sarah Berman, Research Associate

1. Conservation staff studies an ancient Iranian rhyton in the form of a zebu, 1983, Photo: Paul Macapia

 

Related Posts