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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Making an Exhibition, Part 5: Finally, Enjoying the Gallery

Installation shot "Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate." Photo by the author.
Installation shot “Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate.” Photo by the author.

Well, that was a whirl! For any of you that follow these blog posts in a timely manner, you’ll know (and one of you even pointed out to me in a gallery talk!) that I ambitiously scheduled two “Making an Exhibition”  blog posts for myself on the week of and week after the Grete Marks: When Modern Was Degenerate exhibition opened.

Mistake. So, here I am, three weeks tardy to my original plans, finding an afternoon to recap the excitement of putting together the exhibition in its final week, celebrating the opening of the exhibition, and then sharing it with tours and reporters.

I am thrilled with how the beautiful artwork and tremendous story unfold in our exhibition. I am happy to report that we had a great crowd at our opening night. And I have been honored to share this story with more than one reporter, who had very lovely things to say about our exhibition in the press.

Here are a few things that happened.

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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.