Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Interning @ Fenimore Art Museum, Part 3

By Emma Porter, Curatorial Intern

How do art exhibitions happen? It’s kind of like asking how Disney World makes the magic happen. Art museum exhibitions are a cultural happening that the majority of society takes for granted. Unless you get an inside look into how a curatorial team conceives organizes, and produces an exhibition. Then this invisible world becomes very real. Curators make magic happen everyday across the world; these professionals are storytellers. They tell their stories with artworks, artists biographies, historical contexts, and other facets of culture and aesthetics, from the past and present. Curators must be excellent editors and stay focused on conveying a specific story, without dismissing its place within broader cultural themes.

The first day I started interning, the Director of Exhibitions, Michelle Murdock, generously loaned me a set of books to give me an introduction into museum work. The “Bible” for museum workers is Introduction to Museum Work by G. Ellis Burcaw. It literally defines museum work with a set of definitions, including what a “museum object” is, how objects are registered and catalogued, how objects are accessioned (“the acquiring of one or more objects at one time from one source, or the objects so acquired”), and collecting theories for different types of museums.

One of the most valuable and eye-opening experiences for me at the Fenimore Art Museum is observing Eva Fognell, Curator of the Thaw Collection, and Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions, put together the Thaw Homecoming exhibition for the 2012 season. This involves them filling in the floor plan with the sections that best suit the space and the story they were telling. They conversed as they edited how the pieces would be displayed and situated. Some pieces can stand by themselves and make a grand statement. Others need to be grouped together in order to communicate their purpose and context. Not all of the pieces currently travelling will be shown in the exhibition - some will be put back into the permanent collection. A cool fact is that returning pieces need to “rest,” or acclimatize, for twenty-four hours in order to adjust to the environment and thus prevent damage. Much care is put into these object’s “health.” So on many levels, museum work is a labor of love!

After editing, the floor plan was finalized and the works were listed. I am currently learning how to write section labels, and how to incorporate images into these labels in order to deepen the viewer’s understanding of the object. When I look for label images, in the case of a basket, for example, I would look for a photograph of a man or woman making a similar style basket, or the materials from which the basket is made from.

Learning how an exhibition happens is like going behind the scenes of a fantasy world, where I had previously only seen the pristine and yes, magical, end product. I get butterflies thinking about these sneak peaks into a once invisible world. I am lucky enough to get an up close and personal experience with the makers and the makings of this magic.

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