Art Curatorial

Painting the Gallery Walls

Preparations for the design of an exhibition begin many months, sometimes years, in advance of installation. For us at the Milwaukee Art Museum, planning for the placement of art in our main exhibition begins the minute the previous exhibition opens. For instance, when Street Seen opened in January, the next week the exhibition designer removed little to-scale black and white photographs from the gallery model, and our team went to work carefully placing pictures of miniature quilts for the summer’s American Quilts: Selections from the Winterthur Collection exhibition.

This week, I met with my co-curator Catherine Sawinski, the Museum’s exhibition designer John Irion, and our graphic designer Brenda Neigbauer to discuss wall colors. We’ve already decided on the placement of walls and objects within the gallery, so were were at the step to finalize the colors that will look terrific with the art and create a strong visual identity for the show.

For American Quilts, the objects do not arrive at the Museum until just before installation. And because of conservation concerns, the painted walls and cases that come into close proximity to the 200+ year old textiles must be painted and left to “off gas” for weeks ahead of that. We obviously can’t wait to match color chips to art objects in person, so we rely on the color-corrected images in the exhibition catalog to make this careful selection. There is an element of risk, especially since we went with rather bold colors—”gala pink”, “adventure orange”, “passionate purple”! I have bated breath that this will all come together as we imagine it in May.

While looking at the model, I noticed that loads of information is conveyed on low-tech Post-it notes. This image below shows cases and vitrines we’ve selected, their contents and scaled dimension, the scale of the platform, the color of the platform, and scribbled notes about how those things need to altered based on on-going plans. For instance, in these scribbles, we note the height of the platform should change from 16 inches to 14 inches because we are concerned that visitors will not be able to see the top of the bed.

One reply on “Painting the Gallery Walls”

Leave a Reply