21 October 2007

So you want to curate an exhibit?

I spent the weekend turning this:

into this:

If this doesn't excite you, then you are far too difficult to impress.

This is all the work from Breaking Traditions. I discovered a new love over the past couple of years: curating exhibits. It appeals to my obsessive Virgo personality (that I think is slightly dysfunctional because the rest of my life is never as organized as my exhibits are).

I love working with artists. I love getting to interact with their artwork on a personal level. Its very humbling to have someone mail you something that came from their creative soul, its like they are mailing you their first-born. (And no, don't start leaving babies on my doorstep. The quilts don't need to be fed and don't poop all over the place so I much prefer those, thank you very much.)

I had the opportunity to participate in an conference call with a SAQA region that is putting together their first regional show. They had specific questions and I answered them and it felt like a productive phone call. After I hung up the phone, I had a twitchy feeling - kind of like I'd left the house without any pants on. I realized that for everything I had told them, I hadn't even scratched the tip of the iceberg. I'd left out billions of tiny details and I kind of panicked.

So my plan was to do a write up of all the steps and email that to them so it would be like I was there helping them along. I started it three days ago...I'm up to eight pages...and I'm not done yet.

The honest to God truth is that as I wrote it, I started to really question my sanity. Why is this something that I love so dearly? Why do I feel like I've conquered the world when I plan and execute an exhibit? Its still not clear but I do know that if I would jump at the chance to do it for a living.

I do plan to finish my write up of what goes into it. I'd like to post it on my website so that others can reference it when they feel like giving curating a go. But I thought maybe I would post a few things (some of which are a little funny) here just to give you a taste of what is involved.

What Curating an Exhibit Isn't
(otherwise known as "The Delusions that need to be
Destroyed for New Curators" - and trust me, that included me when I first started)

  • Curating is not for the weak of heart. Planning and executing a successful exhibit usually takes around a year. If you try to do it in a tight time frame (like a couple months), you'll end up in a corner muttering to yourself. Don't do it, it won't work, take it from the rest of us who have been there and were crazy enough to try it. Keep that part of your sanity in tact.
  • If you don't have even a tiny touch of OCD, develop it for at least the course of the exhibit. You need to be hyper-organized. Spreadsheets are your best friend and you will begin giving your spreadsheet software little pet names like "honey-bunny" and "sally."
  • You will, at some point of the execution of the exhibit, begin to wonder if you are a sociological experiment for how much stress one human being can absorb before exploding. Just breathe and bravely soldier on, it will all work out in the end.
  • For the love of all things holy, label the boxes that come from UPS and FedEx with the name of the artist as soon as you unpack the artwork. The evil S.O.B.s at these shippers often only list their store as the return address. Unless the artists lives in the UPS or FedEx store, you will be playing "match-the-box-with-the-artwork" game because the artist's address may not even match the city in which it was mailed.
  • Be flexible. If something in your plan is not working out, don't dwell on it. Find another solution and move on. Quickly now, before the Schedule flattens like you like a bus.
Now that's just a taste of some of the stress, uh, I mean excitement. I can see you, you know. I see you with the scrunched up forehead and squinted eyes muttering, "She's clearly not right in the head. Why would I bother?" Here's why:

What Curating an Exhibit Is
(otherwise known as "Why the Heck I Do this to Myself")

  • Curating connects you to other artists in a way that no other activity can. How many exhibits have you been to and you've walked through them fairly quickly, only glancing at the work? When you handle and hang the artwork, you really look at it and get to know it first hand.
  • Its F U N. I know it didn't sound like it from the points above but it really is. Because when people send work in for your exhibit, they are telling you that they share your vision. They understand the exhibit's purpose and they want to join you in standing up and speaking with their art.
  • You really learn a lot about different styles of artwork. Its fascinating because it seems like you are looking at your chosen medium with a new set of eyeballs and you wouldn't believe just how endless the creativity of fiber artists is.
  • You learn about how you can improve your own artwork. I learned some really cool tips on packing my art quilts from seeing how others have done it. I know what type of hanging rods are easy to ship and which ones should be avoided. I also learned the things that I can do it make it easier for the shows I ship to.

I really do encourage everyone to give curating an exhibit a try if you think you would like to do it. But don't enter into it lightly. You are making a commitment in terms of your time and be prepared to do a substantial part of the labor if you aren't going solo on it, in which case you will do 99% of it yourself. If you agree to co-curate an exhibit, follow through and do the work, never expect the other person to do all the heavy lifting.

Also understand that you are making a commitment to the artists that are sending you their work. Tread carefully and respectfully of that fact. Because all artwork - whatever the style, the topic, the medium - is to be treated like it was your own when you curate.

Go on, give it a go. I'll be here to listen when you realize at 2am the night before hanging that you forgot to print up the labels for the work or spent an hour trying to figure out which box goes with which quilt. (I'm sure that it was shipped by FedEx or UPS, I tell you , they are out to get us.) Its all good.


bj parady said...

All this angst, and yet you did a great job with Balancing Act. Thanks for all the efforts you made to help us get our work out there.

Fibra Artysta said...

Thanks BJ. Its not really angst, its just that people think its a simple task. There is a lot that goes into it and you tend to get a little slap happy toward the end of it! :)

Jean Judd said...

Hi Lynn,
As BJ said, you did a fantastic job with Balancing Act. I've been showing the wonderful CD you made of the exhibit pieces as well to everyone that I can get in front of a computer. As soon as I figure out the new HD TV, I'm watching it on the big screen. That should be truly awesome and then anyone who sets foot in the house will be seeing it.
Looking forward to more of your curated exhibits.