For the past several weeks, the Collection Management department has been busier than usual, with multiple back-to-back exhibition projects. We began with the de-installation of In Conversation, which was followed very closely by the de-installation of Fabergé Revealed. This second project actually overlapped with our third major job: the installation of the new Art and Nature Center. You’ve likely heard about the new ANC, featured on this blog, and the opening exhibition Beyond Human: Artist-Animal Collaborations.
Rolling right along, we then had just a couple days to reorganize our tools and unpack, assemble and stage about 90 mannequins. Then came the culmination of the CRAZY BUSY fall schedule that everyone in Collection Management, Registration, Exhibition Planning and Design had been dreading/anticipating: the simultaneous installation of two major exhibitions: Impressionists on the Water in the House Galleries and Future Beauty in PEM’s newly renovated Dodge wing.
Our plan involved calling in one of our favorite freelance art handlers, Scott Benson, to round out our crew, and splitting ourselves up into two teams, working at opposite ends of the museum on completely different projects. My colleague Matt Del Grosso headed up the Impressionists install, which he wrote about for the blog. He worked with couriers from San Francisco and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, while my team worked on Future Beauty with our counterparts from the Kyoto Costume Institute.
Things went pretty smoothly, and we found ourselves presented with ways to break up the day, and get a little variety. My team was able to get started first thing in the morning arranging mannequins, cleaning them and helping the KCI staff dress them in underwear.
During our Japanese friends’ mid-morning tea break (stipulated in the exhibition contract and a great idea) we could check in with our other half and help hang the odd Renoir painting, maybe even stand around a bit and gawk at some interesting Dutch security hardware. There were also interesting deals to be struck, such as “I’ll stop what I’m doing to come help you move your 20-foot boat into position if you send a few people to help with these 8-foot tall photo panels.”
It turned out that the biggest challenge was efficiently splitting supplies between our crews. Our tools carts are excellent, and we try to keep them well organized, but it turns out that, at any given time, they can only occupy a single point in time-space.
Lucky for us, Monets and mannequins are different enough that you typically don’t need the same equipment to install them, but there were plenty of occasions for one of us to have to leave our galleries and walk across the museum to retrieve something silly, like a fresh drill battery. Anything could happen on that excursion. You could run into a co-worker who wants to chat you up or drag you off into some other task. You might be tempted to take a nice long cookie break in the Atrium Café. You may catch a glimpse of the outside world and decide to just make a run for it.
In the end, both shows came together on time, which I attribute largely to the sickening amounts of Halloween candy that fueled us all. It was not rare to find our crews taking a short, intense break in the Atrium, all seated around a mess of coffee cups and fun-size wrappers.