Culver visit, January 17th 2011

They sweep, they paint, they unpack.  They haul boxes on top of carts up and down stairs. Behind the seemingly effortlessly clean gallery – a white space eternally pristine and untouched-looking —  and before art works go on walls or onto the waiting white pedestals there are the people who actually make the art happen –

Not in the sense of making artifacts.

No, they don’t create art in that sense right now (although some of them are artists when they aren’t working here).  Yet, without them, art could not be experienced by me and you as perfect, beautiful, shocking, and/or arresting.

The people I’m talking about are those who uncrate the art objects, carry them, put them into preliminary position, who  — in general – work with the artist and the curator to make the exhibition look good.

But the work doesn’t end there.  Someone crafts the little plaques or cards that go next to each art piece. Then someone has to walk around periodically making sure the plaques are hanging straight, that the lights aren’t dusty, that everything is working and looking as it should.

To me, this is extremely cool and important (and intensive) work.

Jeff, who is an accomplished artist himself, is the artsblock exhibition designer for the Culver.  Meticulous, patient, and knowledgeable with a persistent smile, he lets me shadow him as he walked the vast basement underneath the gallery.  Along the way he points out the odd 2 doors and big concrete step that mark the changeover from one connected retrofitted building to another.  He shows me the big retaining wall that had to be worked around when the 2 buildings were meshed. It forms a blocky arch at the bottom of the building.  We go back upstairs.   The 3 work-study students are carrying big cloth cacti on carts.  Sarah has been at the Culver for 4 years, and she shows me the glass cleaner they are using to clean the terra cotta pots for an upcoming exhibition.  Two other students smile. They are shyer but are working hard.

A lot goes into making a gallery space look good.  The emptiness is hard to achieve.  And the white walls are a constant source of effort and concern.

Sarah explains that you have to repaint the walls really carefully – white each time – because if the paint isn’t spread on as thinly as possible, it builds up, makes bumps and lumps and doesn’t look pretty.

“There’s an inevitable decline to gallery walls,” Jeff says.

The 4 combat this decline.

I observe the combat.

I wonder about the following:

If we could see what went on in the arranging of an art exhibition, would we be more appreciative?

If we saw the work, time, and talent involved in running a cultural center, would we give more to it?  Would we get more involved with helping?

I learn a new term:  skim coating = replastering the wall so you can paint it over completely fresh.  So it looks smooth for the art.


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