By Meredith Hoobler, PRC Fall 2012 Intern
Exhibition planning, design, and execution is one of those tasks that simultaneously makes curators want to pull their hair out and jump around like a little girl who just received her first doll. It is complicated yet surprisingly simple, and its success depends on a few very important skills. Over the months I have worked at the Photographic Resource Center, I have been constantly working with Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis, the Program & Exhibition Manager. Working on so many different projects at the PRC it has been easy for me to pick up the important aspects of exhibition development, through Erin discussing her tasks with me, and my own observations.
Everything fell into place for me personally when I interviewed Erin for a profile article. Sitting down with her at an isolated location away from work really allowed us to converse about her thoughts about the upcoming exhibit, The Space in Between: Daniel Feldman, Stefanie Klavens, and Lynn Saville. This one exhibit taught me in only two short months about approximately a yearlong journey that ends with an opening night.
First and foremost, you need substance. You need to get that spark, light bulb, or flash of an idea, usually triggered by seeing an artist’s work. Once you have the idea, brainstorming steps in. What other artists could pair or complement this one, should it be a solo show, which works are the most influential, powerful, or able to be applied to your theme? This step’s time period is infinite and depends on individual timelines, a boss or department’s deadline, or the organization where the show is to be installed and exhibited. Erin explained the difference in timelines to me based on institution size. Smaller nonprofits such as the PRC have much less time in planning. A year is ideal, but usually the curator and small support staff have under a year to complete the exhibition process. A larger museum typically requires years of planning and research done by a much larger staff of professionals and interns.
After a curator develops an idea and finds his or her artists, he or she has to make a proposal to a board or committee. Before this step, a lot of preparation must be done: creating an overarching context for the exhibit, research for where the exhibit should be installed for specific audiences and space, contacting the artists to guarantee their participation and developing contracts. When the board or committee approves the idea, the contracts move into action, with each one tweaked to each artist’s needs: artwork details, delivery and shipping, prices, image appropriation, and rights all need to be addressed in the contracts. Once contracts are completed, the really fun part begins.
Selecting the works and designing the layout of the exhibit is the next step of execution. This process includes: organizing and designing the show; deciding the wall color(s), the text, the font; writing the exhibition commentary as well as all wall texts; and deciding where the pieces are going to be hung. Any printed materials about the show need to be created and distributed along with a press release. In an organization like the PRC, the curator works simultaneously on the planning and execution stage and the public relations stage. The curator writes his or her statement, explaining the main theme of the exhibit and the curator’s inspiration. This statement ultimately influences the viewer’s experience of the show.
When the work is all delivered, the installation part of execution commences. The works are unpacked and initially placed accordingly to the curator’s design. They rarely stay according to the initial design because an image looks so different in person than as a PDF or JPG file. In the PRC’s case, a freelance installation technician, Vinnie Marasa, comes in and paints the walls before he installs the works. In a larger institution, the museum or organization usually has its own on-site installation team. Once the works are hung, they are critically observed by the curator for aesthetic and thematic perfection. When everything is painted, framed, and attached to the wall, the exhibition opening is the last step of planning. The opening reception is like the party that celebrates the culmination of many months of work and introduces the exhibit to the public.
If there is one thing that Erin has taught me through my time here, it is that all these steps can be made easier through organization. Organization is the key aspect for success. If you aren’t organized you won’t meet deadlines and will make more work for yourself in the long run. It has been an honor to work next to Erin while she plans her first solo show, learning from her, admiring her for allowing me the privilege of assisting her, a job that is not available at larger institutions. All that’s left is the exhibition opening, this coming Thursday, November 15th, where we will see if the exhibition is a success and the viewers can grasp the messages and conversations that Erin has laid out between the works that hang on the gallery walls.