Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Museum Meets the Mind of a Library Student

by Barbara Cardinale

Documenting the Contemporary Art Museum's collection has been an anticipated project for CAM, so Peter Foe, Curator of the Collection, and Shannon Annis, Registrar, put their heads together to create what is now known as the Museum at Work exhibition project.  It’s really wonderful to be a part of such an inventive project and I hope to learn more about the world of art handling and how it relates to library work. 

The first week of the project was decidedly technical.  Peter, Shannon, six other bloggers and I discussed the basics of the blog and what was to be expected of its contents.  Foremost, the individual perspective was stressed as different educational interests in the project will determine invigorating entries.  During the rest of the week, I worked on the blog presence and managed our personal email account.  Peter also asked me to help him set the backdrop for a translucent work by Claus Oldenberg, so a white background was necessary to accurately document the art piece.  

The second week was more hands on, but I was still engaged in working on the blog.  Taking Enaam’s advice, I set up a google documents workspace for us bloggers to more succinctly share our thoughts before publishing them here.  Stepping away from the digital realm a bit, I engaged in helping Peter, Shannon and students/ volunteers transport and store what consisted mostly of large-scale paintings.   Theoretically, moving larger works will help us amateur art-handlers learn the technicalities and precision of the art of moving art.  The Museum at Work project is like a life-exercise in postmodernism.  

Also during the second week, Shannon inculcated to us the semantics of the database program, Embark.  This is an art-storing program that manages, records, locates, dates, compiles, etc. all of the artworks in the collection.  Since there around 5,000 different pieces of art stored in the vault, a digital program like this takes the burden off the human brain.   I am interested in how the museum registrar tracks its inventory because in a library's archives, the provenance of a research collection or personal papers is a vital aspect of acquiring and processing the materials so their place and research value is accommodated for.  I can’t wait until next week when I can meddle with Embark more and further investigate the similarities and differences between the museum registrar and the library archivist. 

Anthropology Meets Museology

by Sarah Crocker

As fascinated as I am in the technical and artistic aspects of this exhibit, such as the photography, databases, and blogging, I'm more interested in the museum guests that will be visiting this exhibition. Museum at Work is certainly different from many art exhibits, or at least from many individuals' conceptions of what an art exhibit should be. Instead of a static collection of pieces that will remain on display for weeks at a time, this exhibit will feature an ever-changing array of works and a near-constant presence of volunteers and interns.

This situation presents an opportunity for visitors to interact with the volunteers and directed study students involved in the project. They will be able to ask questions about the art and the process of documenting it, draw their own conclusions, and hopefully gain new viewpoints and interests in CAM and contemporary art in general. This would be a golden opportunity for us to consider the relationships among workers, museum guests, and the museum environment itself by asking questions such as, "What causes someone to reflect upon art?" "How does an art museum operate behind the scenes?" "What can we do to encourage a visitor's reflection and critical thought regarding these pieces?" Hopefully, we will be able to answer these and many other questions throughout the course of this exhibition.

Details, Details, Details

by Katia Setti 

Amongst other projects, one of the activities I took on this week, together with Shannon Annis, was creating and mounting signs and labels for the show.  I was amazed at how precise this process was.  Up until this point, I would visit museums as an outsider, and not someone behind the scenes and I would overlook the labels or quickly glance at them, paying closer attention to the art work. Even so, I never stopped and thought about the logistics in making signs and labels.  Working behind the scenes has taught me to appreciate such details and small steps required in organizing a successful exhibit.
I would like to share the meticulous nature of this process.  The first step Shannon and I took was to use software specifically designed to create spreadsheets and labels.  We centered each sentence, chose the correct font, and the exact colors.  We then printed the results and had them approved by Don Fuller, the Media Curator.  Once they were approved, all of the signs were reprinted with any new adjustments.  We then mounted one label at a time! We first measured the label, then used the cutting board to cut the mat board, making sure to cut it slightly smaller than the paper.  This was done so that the board remained hidden beneath the paper once the two were attached.  We then used adhesive spray to attach the two, making sure to go outside to avoid the indoors.  We sprayed the mat board, then - depending on the size of the sign - we both gently laid the paper on the board, making sure to align every corner.  We finalized the attachment by patting down the surface with clean cotton gloves.  While this was all happening, we made sure none of the corners were bent and the paper remained in perfect condition.   Lastly, we taped the back of the mat board, making sure the written side was laying safely over a clean, smooth surface.  Finally, we attached the label to the wall.  We measured 60 inches from the floor, which equaled the center of the sign, then added half the height of the paper to figure out where the topmost point of the sign would sit.  Using a level, we attached the sign carefully to the wall.  This process had to be done twice because the label was placed slightly crooked (and when I say slightly, I mean approximately 1/8th of an inch).  Perfection and attention to detail were key to this whole process.   Keep in mind, this is the process of creating, mounting, and displaying just one sign!
Before this experience, I would have walked into the Contemporary Art Museum, looked at the art displayed, and completely taken for granted the "behind-the-scenes" work involved. Every aesthetic detail is extremely important and directly represents the level of prestige the institution carries.  This is a team effort. It's the sum of every member's actions that creates a successful project.  This is especially true in an institution such as CAM. 
I think the Museum at Work project will be a great way to add value to the museum in the eyes of viewers because it will give insiders a chance to share their knowledge with outside visitors.

A Lesson in Moving Art

by Enaam Alnaggar 

I arrived for my first day of work at USF CAM at 10:15, Thursday morning, to find Peter, Shannon and a few volunteers and interns already hard at work, transporting several paintings back to the museum vault. As I checked in, one of the volunteers handed me an info sheet outlining the various procedures involved in the handling and transport of artwork. As I looked over the sheet, I realized that most of the pointers were really just common sense -- never carry more than one piece of work at a time, ask for help when you need it, etc.-- but I wouldn’t realize how involved and meticulous the process was until later. 

For the first half-hour or so, I simply observed, unwilling to wear the little white cotton work-gloves everyone was sporting. Most of the artwork was relatively large and without a doubt extremely valuable. Moving and storing it required a lot of overhead lifting.  Some of the volunteers were even on ladders and it all seemed a bit perilous.  I’ve always thought of myself as a little clumsy and the idea of me dropping or damaging a piece of artwork was horrifying because the value of artwork doesn’t just lie in its monetary worth, but in the time and effort that the artist invested to create it. I’ve always viewed art as an extension of the artist’s spirit and to have that expression wasted is quite a terrible thing. 

Still, I couldn’t hide forever and after watching the others for a while, I grew a little less nervous and more interested in trying it out for myself.  I got my chance soon enough and when I lifted up the painting, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as heavy as I thought. Moving it was a little stressful at first, especially when you are the one walking backwards. You really have to be aware of your surroundings, so as not to bump or scratch the painting against anything, or worse, trip and drop it. Eventually, however, you get used to the process.  After moving the paintings, we stored them in the upper levels of the vault where Shannon explained to me that in order to prevent damage, all flat artwork must be stored either face-to-face or back-to-back. In all, the whole process truly reinforced Peter and Shannon’s oft-repeated assertion that “moving artwork isn’t just moving artwork.” 

Shannon also demonstrated to a group of us the museum’s cataloging system that is used to keep track of the exact location of each piece of artwork. If you are wondering about the importance of this system, think about this: What would happen if a book was misshelved in a library? It would be equivalent to losing that book forever. What are the chances of finding that one book among the thousands that a library houses? CAM stores thousands of pieces of artwork; finding a lost piece among all that would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. 

We also made a short trip to Graphicstudio to examine a Keith Sonnier piece that needed repairing.  I have to say that I greatly enjoyed my first day of helping out at CAM.  Being around all that artwork and actually being involved in some aspect of it, left me with a very satisfied feeling and I can’t wait to come back next week.