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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Behind the Scenes: Analysis of a Face Jug

Mark Newell and Claudia Mooney collecting empirical data on the face jugs. Photo courtesy of Mark Newell.
Mark Newell and Claudia Mooney collecting empirical data on the face jugs. Photo courtesy of Mark Newell.

The exhibition Face Jugs: Art and Ritual in 19th Century South Carolina, on view this past summer at the Milwaukee Art Museum (and currently on tour through South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia), provided us at Chipstone with a rare hands-on research opportunity.

As you may have read in one of my previous blog posts on Face Jugs, the objects in the exhibition were made by slaves, and later free African Americans, in the Edgefield County of South Carolina from about 1860 to about 1880. Previous scholars posited arguments that connected the face jugs back to Africa, but there was still research to be done in terms of the face jugs’ origin and function.

In addition to conducting our own research, we teamed up with anthropologists, archeologists and historians in order to gain a fuller understanding of the face jugs’ story–and got up close and personal with the objects in the process.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Making an Exhibition, Part 4: Storyboards, Design, and Installation

Pin board of a Milwauke Art Museum Curator. Photo by Mel Buchanan.
A “visual checklist” pinboard at my desk. Photo by the author.

Picking paint colors. Stepping under ladders in closed off galleries. Artfully arranging teacups. All are things I’ve done in the past few weeks, and all are entirely fun perks to a curator’s job. Beyond the fun, what I aim to do in this post is go a little deeper into the process of installing, painting, and arranging an exhibition.

In the first three posts of this series, I’ve addressed steps to developing the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate exhibition (on view September 6, 2012 – January 1, 2013), from idea to loan paperwork to marketing.

The next step of bringing this incredible story and artwork physically to the public were the conversations we had about the design of the gallery, because there are as many ways to display artwork as there are paint colors in the Sherwin-Williams sample book.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Making an Exhibition, Part 3: Approvals and Loans and Email and Paperwork

"Grete Marks" exhibition committee proposal, front page.
“Grete Marks” exhibition committee formal proposal, front page.

In the first two posts of this series, I’ve addressed the origins of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate exhibition (on view September 6, 2012 – January 1, 2013).  The exhibition went from my admiration of a certain artwork I didn’t know well, to years of background research to learn the context and nuance of the artist’s story.

In those steps, I looked at artwork, read about Bauhausian ideas, and traveled to Berlin and London to meet with curators and examine stunning teapots. For the next part of the task of making the exhibition, I mostly sat at a computer in Milwaukee generating forms and writing emails.

An exhibition goes from a curator’s idea to a museum reality through a series of approvals up the chain-of-command. To bring my personal research on Grete Marks into a real Museum exhibition, I first spoke with my curatorial colleagues and the Museum’s Chief Curator about the idea.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Making an Exhibition, Part 2: Research (with Travel!)

"Grete Marks" display at the Jewish Museum Berlin. Photo by the author.
“Grete Marks” display at the Jewish Museum Berlin. Photo by the author.

As I moved through the stages of putting together the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate exhibition (on view September 6, 2012 – January 1, 2013), I began by researching the designer through secondary literature and compiled a list of 417 Grete Marks ceramics and watercolors in institutional collections.

Those tasks I could do mostly from my office in Milwaukee, thanks to great library services and generous colleagues at other institutions.

However, to build relationships with curators for borrowing artwork, to meet with Grete Marks’ daughter Frances Marks, and to personally examine objects so that I could make informed decisions about which of the ceramic vessels we might want to request for loan to our exhibition, I needed to take a research trip to London and Berlin.

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it…

While researching in England, I made visits to “store” (Brit speak for “storage”) to see artworks at the Victoria & Albert Museum, The British Museum, and the National Museum in Wales. Those institutions have in their collections gifts from the artist herself, as well as from her husband, Harold Marks, and her daughter, Dr. Frances Marks (as do the Potteries Museum and the Museum at Wales’ Prifysgol Aberystwyth University, which I did not visit).

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

Making an Exhibition, Part 1: The Artwork’s Story

Margarete Heymann-Loebenstein Marks, ca. 1925. Photo courtesy Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin.
Margarete Heymann-Loebenstein Marks, ca. 1925. Photo courtesy Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin.

Ever wonder about the details of developing an art museum exhibition? I have to admit, an advanced degree in art history does not directly prepare a curator for the loan agreements, budget constrictions, press relationships, and conservation concerns that must be negotiated and balanced along with telling a great story.

In order to break down and share what I think is a pretty fascinating process, I’ve put together a six-part blog post series that addresses the steps I took in developing the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate exhibition (on view September 6, 2012 – January 1, 2013).

Every exhibition should start with and keep at its core great artwork and a meaningful story.  For me, this exhibition germinated when I encountered a Bauhaus-trained ceramist named Grete Marks in 2007.

I’d never heard her name. I wasn’t a Bauhaus expert.

But I felt something for her teapots.

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20th and 21st Century Design Art Behind the Scenes Collection Curatorial

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the American Studio Glass Movement

American Studio Glass installation. Photo by the author.

The year 2012 is considered the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass movement. The anniversary is being celebrated with exhibitions and events across the country, organized in large part by the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass.

The Milwaukee Art Museum has a terrific collection of studio glass, and we were thrilled to be part of the celebration. Along one wall of the newly-designed Kohl’s Art Generation Studio is a new installation that celebrates using glass as a medium of creative impulse.

The glass sparkles, tells an important art history story, and I hope that its visual beauty inspires young artists as they create their own artwork nearby.

What is the American Studio Glass movement, and what is this anniversary?

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Behind the Scenes Exhibitions Museum Store

The Making of an Exhibition Store

The potters in place
Ceramics in place

If you’ve read curator Mel Buchanan’s posts Painting the Gallery Walls or Layers of Exhibition Paint, you already have a general sense of how an exhibition physically comes together.  A lot of those same processes apply to the execution of an exhibition store, as well.

While Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper was still in full swing, Director of Retail Operations Karen McNeely and Store Manager Jeanne Tripi met with the Museum’s Exhibition Designer John Irion to discuss the dimensions and the colors of the Accidental Genius: Art from the Anthony Petullo Collection exhibition store.  In fact, the Impressionism store and the Accidental Genius store are located in the exact same space–just the configuration of the walls has shifted.

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Art Curatorial

How Many Curators Does it Take to Create an Exhibition?

Installation shot, MIAD's "Style, Innovation, & Vision" exhibition. Photo by the author.
Installation shot, MIAD’s “Style, Innovation, & Vision” exhibition. Photo by the author.

Don’t answer that. Most jokes beginning that way aren’t very nice to the subject. My answer, in this case, is: six.

This fall, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) Director of Galleries Mark Lawson asked six design-lovers to curate an exhibition in the college’s Brooks Stevens Gallery.

Style, Innovation, & Vision: Six Perspectives of a Design Collection (Oct 7, 2011 – March 1, 2012) shows the results of his experiment.

MIAD has a significant collection of industrial design objects–ranging wildly from a Betty Crocker mixer to wheelchairs to a Motorola Razr cell phone. In 2010 MIAD’s webmaster Dave O’Meara and MIAD alumnus Dave Hinkle created a new digital catalog of these objects and illustrations.

To celebrate and advertise the possibilities of this new resource, Mark Lawson used it at the center of an exhibition. He called in a variety of voices to help, and I was thrilled to be one of the six involved.

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Education

Hip-Hop in the Galleries, Inspired by Art

Dwight and Marquis Gilbert demo music-making in front of Jim Campbell, Jim Campbell, Taxi Ride to Sarah's Studio, 2010. LEDs, wire, custom electronics. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Art Society. © Jim Campbell. Photo by the author
Dwight and Marquis Gilbert demo music-making in front of Jim Campbell's Taxi Ride to Sarah's Studio, 2010. LEDs, wire, custom electronics. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Art Society. © Jim Campbell. Photo by the author.

Scratching, turntables, bass, melodies, rhythm. Not exactly vocabulary you’re used to hearing about in an art museum, is it?

In an experiment with H2O Milwaukee Music/the Peace Propaganda Project, an urban music education organization, we put teens, music educators, and video art all together in a gallery to see what would happen.

The mission: Create an original piece of music inspired by Jim Campbell’s Taxi Ride to Sarah’s Studio (2010).

First, we took 15 minutes to look closely at the piece, which is made up of many small LED lights programmed to blink at certain intervals, creating an unusual video installation (see video below). Teens immediately centered in on one of Campbell’s primary interests: visually representing peripheral vision. Then, with an array of equipment–turntables, laptops, keyboards, subwoofers, speakers–we set about creating a piece of music inspired by the look, mood, and rhythm of Campbell’s piece.

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Behind the Scenes Exhibitions

Behind the Scenes–The Music of the “Wings”

Quadracci Pavilion, Milwaukee Art Museum. Designed by Santiago Calatrava.
Quadracci Pavilion, Milwaukee Art Museum. Designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Picture this: You’re watching the wings open on the Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion and you realize you hear music… Ever wonder who is behind its creation? I have! The answer is the talented Kris Martinez, Interactive Designer at the Museum. Below, straight from Kris, is everything you ever wanted to know about the music of the Museum.

My name is Kris Martinez, and I am an Interactive Designer at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Some of my daily tasks include designing websites for our feature exhibitions, creating interactive installations, and creating television commercials. I also compose musical themes for the Museum.

For the past year, the Museum has featured short musical pieces that play when the wings open and close. This happens three times a day: 10 AM when the Museum opens, noon when the wings flap, and 5 PM (or 8 PM on Thursdays) when the Museum closes. Each arrangement is unique and is inspired by the Museum’s feature exhibition.