Art hang

Last week, my colleagues and I hit the road to install a cross-section of PEM’s finest objects at NYC’s annual Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory, a massive former army barracks that now hosts events ranging from theater and dance to music and large-scale contemporary art installations. We had an inkling as to what to expect, a couple of us having some previous experience at the venue — and with the exhibition designer chosen for our pavilion — but it still felt a bit like unknown territory. I was excited to go to New York City, but mostly just to sport all my Seattle Seahawks gear, and lay down some good juju in advance of next week’s Super Bowl. SEA! HAWKS!

Our crack team consisted of Matt Del Grosso, Brittany Minton and, of course, myself, as well as about 100 pounds of tools and supplies that we carried from Salem on our backs. Monday night we started strong with some beers, burgers and ice cream, knowing that, for the next two days, we may be far too busy to gallivant at will.

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Matt Del Grosso takes in some pre-install ice cream in NYC. Photo by Dave O’Ryan

Arriving at the Armory bright and early on Tuesday morning, after a pre-dawn run through Central Park, we quickly discovered that construction delays were going to eat up most of that day. We took the opportunity to further strategize the order in which we would like to unpack and install our objects, and to organize our supplies, and to begin mentally preparing ourselves for the long days we would need to work in order to make up for the lost time.

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Boxes in the armory. Photo by Dave O’Ryan

Once we received our finished structure we worked late into the night. After calling it quits around 10 pm, and heading out for some late dinner, I ran into my most serious issue of the day. Picture this: you order a delicious-sounding meal of Bangers and Mash and a creamy Smithwicks, and the waitress returns to inform you that they are out of sausages! Disaster.

Wednesday morning we started off with the most challenging objects, like Samuel McIntire’s 1805 Custom House sign. It took four people and a scissor lift to hoist the 250-pound sign into place above one of the pavilion’s doorways.

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Sign from first U.S. Custom House. Samuel McIntire. Painted and gilded pine 1757-1811. Salem, Massachusetts

After the rest of the heavy lifting was done (including the Washington Hotel sign and some beefy American furniture) we worked through many of the remaining paintings and smaller 3D objects.

2550. Sign for the Washington Hotel

Wooden sign for the Washington Hotel, Lynnfield, MA, built by the Newburyport Turnpike Company in 1804. The sign bears the names of two of the proprietors: “T. Newcomb 1812″ on one side and “N. Conant 1822″ on the other. Washington is depicted in full military uniform. Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

We stayed busy a full 16 hours and despite bringing our tool bags that feature built-in iPhone connections and speakers, we simply did not have time to fool around with playing DJ. Such hardship! Getting out of work past midnight, the only consolation was a bodega sandwich and a Smithwicks at Carlow East, a bar that pledges allegiance to the Seattle Seahawks and, lucky for us, one of the only places left open at that hour on the Upper East Side.

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Brittany Minton of the collections management team installs an object at the Park
Avenue Armory. Photo by Dave O’Ryan

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PEM staff works down to the wire. Photo by Dave O’Ryan

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Dave O’Ryan works on a case. Courtesy photo

We’d left ourselves in a pretty good position to finish up on Thursday, but there was still much to do. Casework fixes, plexiglass cleaning and paint touch-ups sucked up a lot of time. As we were working, we also had to constantly shuffle our work tables and crates around to allow for cleaners and carpet-layers to get the place ready for the opening reception that was steadily creeping up on us. In the end, we were packing up our tools and running out the door just as the bow ties were arriving for the party.

I would be remiss not to mention key staff like Dean Lahikainen, PEM’s curator of American Decorative Arts, who stayed with us late into the night making design decisions and generally assisting in any way he could, even picking up trash in the workspace. (This didn’t stop Dean from making Bill Cunningham’s Evening Hours column in the New York Times, along with our Chief Curator Lynda Hartigan.) All this was in addition to attending the receptions and parties, and doing the schmoozing that curators need to do. Dan Lohnes, PEM’s Head of Loss Prevention, also stayed every bit as long as we did, providing watchful eyes and much needed moral support.

The train ride home was mostly sleepy, and now we’re back in Salem planning out our return to NYC. The Antiques Show closes Sunday, and we’ll be heading down there to pack it all back up again. Wish us luck!

3 Comments

  1. Afshan Bokhari says:

    You guys did an amazing job at the WAS installation. Not only does the display make us look good but also makes our jobs here easier!! Thank you for all of your efforts !

  2. Dave O'Ryan says:

    Thanks, Afshan

  3. bryanne says:

    It looked fabulous and your efforts were enjoyed and appreciated many times over by the visitors to the show that I overheard talking in the display. And as a long time friend of the museum I found the new juxtapositions and visual relationships created among objects in the installation very refreshing and exciting. I am sorry for the hard work it required but it was worth it from where I stand. THANK YOU!

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