Think outside the box: Carnegie Museum of Art uncrates some secrets
A nine-week creative adventure began March 9 as a first-of-its-kind “peek behind the curtain” at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland.
“Uncrated: The Hidden Lives of Artworks” gives visitors an opportunity to see some of the processes that go into collection care, says chief preparator Kurt Christian.
“There are people who work behind the scenes at every museum who are dedicated stewards of those collections, and their work is often unrecognized outside the museum world, so this brings us all into the light of day,” he says.
It also is a way to satisfy the curiosity of those who have ever wondered what happens to artworks that are not in the galleries. Only 7 percent of the museum's collection of 35,000 objects is on view at any time, says Jonathan Gaugler, media relations manager.
A team of registrars, conservators, preparators and curators will move their stored work and share it in Heinz Gallery A, as they examine objects that have been uncrated for inspection. Each Monday, one of nine objects, representing a variety of mediums, including paintings, installations, video and sculpture, will be uncrated for a week-long, special in-depth focus.
First up this week is “Untitled (Yellow Bath), 1996” from British sculptor Rachel Whiteread, whom Christian praises as “a very important contemporary sculptor.” The work, in four parts, was contained in four crates.
“There will be many more objects visible throughout the run of the show because the collections team will be doing work on all of the over 130 objects from storage, so we expect there will be all sorts of other unexpected discoveries,” says Katie Reilly, director of publications, one of the many departments collaborating on this exhibit.
An informational showcase in the Scaife Lounge, adjacent to Gallery A, includes supplementary text panels, interactive displays, taped interviews with staff talking about their approach to their work and a newly commissioned cartoon by Pittsburgh artist Joe Wos that shows the life of an artwork from acquisition to storage, to display, to going on loan.
“We hope these materials will answer most of the possible questions,” Reilly says.
Those stopping in the Scaife Lounge will be able to leave messages and questions via post-it notes for staff. Questions and responses also can be sent via Twitter and Instagram, using #uncrated.
The museum will be featuring exclusive new “Uncrated” content on its blog (uncrated.cmoa.org), Reilly says, with more in-depth material on the featured objects, as well as other artworks from storage that will be assessed, recrated, treated and photographed during the show.
“There is a lot of rich information about the collection and particular objects, artists, donors and so forth. But there are also engaging hands-on activities, such as testing your observational skills by doing a condition report on a painting and putting an object in a specially made crate,” Reilly says.
A gallery search also has been developed to take visitors into the permanent collection galleries and discover unusual facts about artworks.
“The exhibit allows visitors multiple ways into looking at artworks differently, and I hope that will break down the intimidation factor people can sometimes experience,” she says. “A goal is to get people thinking about the material aspects of artworks and learn about the people who care for them every day.”
Some of the art visitors may know well, such as the Joan Miro oil-on-canvas “Queen Louise of Prussia” (1966), which has been on view in the main lobby for extended periods over the years.
“But we hope that the information we provide, on how conservators and preparators deal with the challenges posed by extremely large works of art, will get people to look differently at something that is familiar to them,” Reilly says.
Something like the Buky Schwartz video installation “The Big Video Chair” (1987) is unfamiliar even to some of the curators, she says, because it has not been on view since the 1980s.
“In this case, they will be reconstructing the piece, testing the CRT monitors and creating documentation for future installations,” Reilly says.
Christian says “Uncrated” is a fascinating educational experience for the public, as well as an opportunity for the staff to properly address some of its larger and ongoing collection storage projects.
“It is a pretty diverse group of work with regards to both history and medium, and with big names and not so big names,” he says. “This is a very exciting project.”
“It's been a lot of fun and an invigorating experience for the staff,” Reilly says, “and, we hope, will be for our visitor.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.