One of the more gratifying aspects of working at the Griffin this summer was getting a chance to assist in hanging numerous shows in the museum’s galleries. I have some experience with installation because of my job at the Schick Art Gallery while I was a student at Skidmore. Many of the skills I learned there were applicable to the kind of work I did this summer, and many expanded into larger skill sets.
One of the earlier shows I helped to install was at the Lafayette City Center in Boston. The gallery there is essentially a long, open hallway and is one of three satellites that the staff of the Griffin are in charge of. Our team consisted of me, Iaritza Menjivar (the Associate Director), and a hired outside professional. We had to install over 70 pieces of art, each one with its own unique size, frame, and subject matter. Paula Tognarelli (the Executive Director) had already sequenced the pieces, so our first challenge was spacing them out along the wall. The lights were in fixed positions, so there were some areas of shadow that we had to avoid. I learned numerous tricks just from observing the professional we had hired, such as using a laser level to measure the length of the wall and mark the central height for each piece.
This might all seem banal to some of you reading, but for whatever reason I truly love being tasked with caring for the work of so many artists, and the satisfaction of knowing that together we helped display each piece in the best light possible. That particular show was called Tree Talk, and it consisted of submissions from members of the museum that had been curated by Paula. One of the incredible aspects of this kind of show is that the work of amateur photographers was hung in conjunction with established (even famous) artists in a professional setting. There is no qualification to be a member, and Paula curates the show blind to each entrant’s name and occupation. The pieces exhibited were selected and sequenced based solely on the aesthetics and talent evident in the art itself, not anyone’s name or reputation. That is something increasingly rare in the art world.
At times I feel frustrated that reputations so often precede all other forms of judgement, and sometimes even disqualify work from even being part of the judging. It seems that too often artists must make what the critics want to see until a time comes that they have garnered enough respect to be granted the freedom to work on their true vision. I applaud the Griffin for embracing a more inclusive model. They are certainly not the only ones using it, but they are in the minority of professional galleries.
[Image of an earlier show hung in the Lafayette gallery, courtesy of the Griffin’s website]