Unpacking mannequins

Installing a changing exhibition at PEM is a big process. It often involves couriers from other museums bringing artwork to Salem.  These couriers are surrogates, charged with fulfilling precisely outlined objectives of the museums they represent.  These surrogate relationships are contractually bound and pre-determined through high-level institutional negotiations months or years in advance.

Wait a minute – “surrogates,” “engage,” “contractually bound,” “pre-determined” – am I writing about Medieval match-making or museum work?  This matchmaker metaphor is swirling around my head right now as PEM anticipates the arrival of three couriers from Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI) who will be arriving any day now.  To take the metaphor even further, the PEM team and the KCI couriers will meet, and as perfect strangers form a “union” to safely, efficiently and beautifully install the nearly 100 ensembles comprising Future Beauty, Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion (opening November 16).

Often the artwork, interactive elements and associated props travel to PEM in advance of the couriers.  In this case, all mannequins need to be unpacked, examined and assembled prior to the courier visit.  Happily there has been little confusion or damage to resolve, but we can’t  take the chance of delaying this task until the installation itself.


PEM staffer Dave O’Ryan unpacks a mannequin. Photo by Eric Wolin

A school of fish; a herd of elephants; a pride of lions; a ______ of naked female mannequins…

blue mannequin

Photo by Eric Wolin

It is only fitting that Future Beauty is the inaugural exhibition in the newly renovated second floor of the Dodge wing.  Completely gutted and renovated, the extensive space now boasts an environment that meets the highest museum standards (as do the galleries on the first floor of Dodge).  Equally impressive is how the design and integrated media staff create evocative and unique settings for every changing exhibition. The visual and aural impact of this exhibition will be stunning!


Photo by Eric Wolin

The stage is near set.  Mannequins have been moved from where they were processed to Dodge.  Here they are arranged near the platforms where they will be dressed and ultimately installed.  This step in the process was stipulated by the KCI couriers.

mannequins from the back

Photo by Eric Wolin

Stay tuned for a second blog post that will reflect on the installation itself…In the meantime, enjoy these installation shots by staff photographer Kathy Tarantola.


Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM


Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM


Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM



  1. Carrie says:

    “A goddess of mannequins”

  2. Eric says:

    Very good. When it comes to high fashion, societies often worship both taste-makers and the models who can fit into their impossibly proportioned creations. I was thinking “a fantasy of mannequins.”

  3. bryanne says:

    how about a mash of mannequins, a menage of mannequins, a multitude of mannequins, a market of mannequins, a mumble of mannequins, a march of mannequins,

  4. sophia says:

    Great article daddy. I was thinking a museum of mannequins.

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