Creating an Exhibition

Authored by: Nicole Fletcher on May 6, 2013

Galleries being created for 100 Masters: Only in Canada.

As you likely know, 100 Masters: Only in Canada opens at the end of this week. This is the largest exhibition that the WAG has ever undertaken and it will be a delight to visit. I thought this would be a good time to mention the process for actually compiling an exhibition. This list is vague and the actual process does not necessarily take place in the order listed. However, this is a general idea of how any organization, from small artist-run centers to huge national galleries would go about constructing an art exhibition.

Conceptualize: Unfortunately, good exhibitions are not created by simply choosing works of art that you like. To construct a compelling exhibition an overarching theme for the show is needed. This can be the most fun and most daunting part of exhibition creation. Can you figure out what the theme is for 100 Masters: Only in Canada?

Research & Loans: It's time to refill your coffee and hit the books! For a good exhibition it's necessary to figure out which artists and works to include based on the theme of the show. Research is also needed for developing a catalogue, training tour guides, and creating programming. This is also the time to ask other institutions for loans of their works (if necessary). Dr. Stephen Borys, the curator of 100 Masters has been writing a great blog describing his two years of travels across North America to secure loans for the exhibition.

Exhibition Design: Once the list of works of art in the show is finalized, it's time to design the exhibition space. Which works will be hung where? Where should the pedestals be placed? Will the exhibition be chronological or thematic? Do the walls need to be painted? If so, what color? Will there be extended labels for all of the works? The list goes on and on!  This is an extremely important step as it greatly impacts how the public will view and receive the exhibition. Sometimes specialized exhibition designers are even hired to make sure that the show is displayed in the best way possible.

Programming: Now all that great research material must be put to use by developing programs for the public to go along with the exhibition. This would include tours, events, and lectures. The WAG went all out for 100 Masters, to see all of our exhibition related programming, check out the micro-site.

Administration: Especially with big exhibitions like 100 Masters there is a long list of items to organize and check before the show can go on; to name a few, legal documents (including loan agreements) must be drafted and signed, insurance must be procured, and shipping schedules need to be checked. Plus budgeting for the whole show including but not limited to, contractors, framing, installation, customs, shipping, crating, publications, copyright, advertising, insurance, and lighting.

Marketing: No one will come to an exhibition, no matter how amazing, if they don't know about it... it's time to advertise! What is the message for the show? Why would anyone want to come? Make sure the public knows why this exhibition is important and why they would want to see it. Although unrealistic (paintings are not shipped in foam peanuts), I love the WAG's campaign for 100 Masters showing shipping crates, you may have seen them in the newspaper, on buses, on billboards, or on posters. The WAG even created a short video showing one of the works, Bill Reid's Wasgo from the UBC Museum of Anthropology being taken off of the art shipper's truck.

Installation: Now is the time to put the exhibition design to work. Build walls and dividers, construct pedestals, paint walls, and make labels. Finally, display the works; this includes hanging paintings, placing works on pedestals, or simply displaying them on the floor. Some pieces require special attention so it's imperative to make sure works are displayed to the lending institution's specifications. This process takes longer than most would imagine. The WAG left almost a month in between Creation & Transformation and 100 Masters to set up! Check out the WAG's Facebook page for some great photos of the installation process taken by Dr. Stephen Borys.

Does this information make you think any differently about art exhibitions? What do you think of the exhibition design for 100 Masters? Please leave your comments below or reach us on Twitter and/or Facebook!

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