Art in Town

Art in the Workplace

Art by the River

Art In Trenton

Area Museums

Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the August 8, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Art That Moves – Literally

It has been called "one of the most outstanding

and comprehensive collections of Chinese calligraphy ever assembled

outside Asia." From March 27 to June 27, 1999), "The Embodied

Image" was a major exhibition at The Art Museum, Princeton

University

(U.S. 1, April 14, 1999). Featuring 4th to 20th century Chinese

calligraphy

from the collection of John B. Elliott (1928-1997; Princeton Class

of 1951), the exhibition was accompanied by a scholarly catalog, a

symposium, and a range of related events. It dominated the museum’s

gallery space for both special exhibitions and the permanent

collection,

and attracted a significant number of visitors to the exhibition

itself

and the related activities.

Calligraphy, the art most valued in China, occurred in this exhibition

not only brushed onto paper — in the form of albums, hand scrolls,

and hanging scrolls — but also engraved in stone, cast in bronze,

and painted on fabric. In all applications, it intimately reflected

the artist who created it, while relating overall to Chinese culture.

This area’s diverse communities — scholars, sophisticated

residents

with international interests, artists, and art appreciators —

evidenced readiness and enthusiasm for the art, the history, and yes,

the mystique of calligraphy. Although supplemented by some loans,

the exhibition was drawn largely from the Elliott collection, a

long-term

loan that was already on site and that at Elliott’s death became a

bequest to the university.

From Princeton, the exhibition moved to New York’s Metropolitan Museum

of Art for nearly four months, September, 2000, to January, 2001.

It was then returned here to be readied for transport to its third

exhibition venue, the Seattle Asian Art Museum (March 1 to May 27).

Finally, in mid-June, "The Embodied Image" arrived back in

Princeton.

So far, the narration has dealt only with the public side of "The

Embodied Image" exhibition — the only side most art museum

patrons are familiar with. For all practical purposes, and virtually

all visitors as well, the exhibition simply appeared in place in the

university museum, then the Metropolitan Museum, and then the Seattle

Asian Art Museum, much as Athena sprang fully armed from the brow

of Zeus. But, no. For of course, that’s not at all how it happened.

The public side of "The Embodied Image" was just the tip of

the iceberg. As an iceberg’s submerged base is vastly bigger than

the part above the water’s surface, so too is the

behind-the-scenes-base

of an art exhibition. It’s the unseen parts of the show that make

it happen, protect and support it, and allow it to be seen as widely

as possible.

Most people are familiar with the jobs called "painter,"

"sculptor,"

"printmaker," and even "artist." They’re much less

likely to nod knowingly at "preparator,"

"mount-maker,"

"conservator," or even "museum registrar." These

unfamiliar

names denote the comparatively exotic professions of the

behind-the-scenes

people who make art exhibitions happen. Their expertise assures that

necessary steps like the few that follow are taken care of:

"*"designing the exhibition

"*"assembling art objects and materials

"*"packing, crating, and transporting art shows from one place

to another

"*"securing insurance for art objects during travel

"*"contracting with individuals, companies, and institutions

"*"continuously monitoring the condition of the art

To bring "The Embodied Image" to the Art Museum of

Princeton

University and then to New York and Seattle and back again was the

work of many years and countless people. Ultimately and as might be

expected, much of the preparatory and behind the scenes work had to

do with effectively displaying the calligraphy, although its care

and security — both at home and in transit — was also a

paramount

concern. Even something that might seem routine, photographing the

work for the catalog, took much more time than usual. Reason, in this

case? Some of the objects were 30 to 40 feet long, besides being in

Chinese. That uncommon combination called for a Chinese speaker who

could read and identify what was being said and where the logical

breaks occurred.

Initially, museum curators and/or historians come up with the idea

for an exhibition. Drawing on their specialized knowledge and

contacts,

they arrange for loans of materials to enrich the projected show,

and cast about for other venues where it might also appear. At some

point, of course, the institution’s director has approved the concept,

and it is scheduled in the museum’s calendar.

The exhibition catalog is one variable that can affect timing because

realistically, it has much greater longevity than the exhibition

itself

ever can. Marked by extensive scholarship and reproduction of works

of art, a catalog of this scope is a very ambitious project.

Exhibition

design, a little-known career, gives the lie to any notion that

curators

just pull out of storage everything in the permanent collection having

to do with the show’s subject, and poof! — there it is. This

specialty

includes designing display furniture, choosing wall colors, creating

visual effects for introductory and continuity purposes, and making

floor plans — with wiggle room built in — for the actual

installation.

One fascinating example of a job to be done — this one by a

"mount-maker:"

the exhibition included a silk, kimono-like robe filled with

brushed-on

calligraphy and called "An Examination Garment." The question

was, how best to display this object. And the answer included a

custom-designed

form made of inert Plexiglas, with sheet metal embedded in it. Tiny

magnets that were painted with inert acrylics to match the robe and

were invisible in effect, would effectively hold the garment to the

sheet metal, and thus in place on the form.

Way before this point, a key museum staff member known

to few outsiders is already on the team. The museum registrar’s

involvement

with an art exhibition starts well before it opens and continues long

after its run. Why? Briefly, as one reference book states, because

"the registrar oversees and controls all object movement, both

within the museum and without, and is responsible for the surrounding

functions of risk management, storage, packing, object handling, and

inventory control."

The registrar of the Princeton University Museum, Maureen McCormick,

describes herself as a "gatekeeper." Describing herself and

her office, she says "we’re the place information filters through,

but we’re always talking with curators, preparators,

conservators."

Museum registrar since 1988, McCormick is quick, precise, personable

— and, perfect for her job, she’s a self-described minutiae

aficionado.

Unexpected bonus, she is also a spellbinding raconteur on the perils,

and the fun, of mounting a major art exhibition. "The Embodied

Image," for instance.

With an exhibition green light, curators consider where else the show

might be seen after its initial run. In the case of "The Embodied

Image," geographical spread was one aspect to consider. And too,

some of the loans came from the Met. McCormick’s office gets into

the mix early by providing to prospective venues the "display

requirements" such as the space needed for an exhibition and the

costs likely to be involved, and assuring all agreements come back

signed.

But first, a more telling determination must be made: is a prospective

venue safe and appropriate for the exhibition? That institution’s

"facility report" — a form devised by a museum registrars

group and used nationally — yields the answer, based on such data

as museum staff size and training; wall material; window treatments

and quality of light; and even size of loading dock, as well as recent

losses, if any. A question about proximity to earthquake zones took

on special resonance with "The Embodied Image:" shortly after

it was installed in Seattle, the area did in fact experience an

earthquake

— but the show emerged unscathed.

Since the activities of securing art loans for a show and finding

other venues for it proceed concurrently, there’s a "kind of Catch

22," she says. "Your potential lenders want to know where

the show will go; prospective sites want to know what will be in the

show." However, she adds, "this one wasn’t so hard to sell

because the core of it was known."

Besides loan agreements, arranging for crating and shipping of loaned

material also falls to the registrar. "Most of this show was

already

here," McCormick says, "so it was a piece of cake compared

with the alumni collection exhibition, with over 400 works of art

from 165 lenders, many with more than one home."

So the wish for an exhibition is not father to the sport — but,

more likely, to years of effort. True, it’s basically happy effort,

since it’s all for a worthy and elevating cause. But the goal involves

innumerable steps, many of them long, laborious, costly — or all

of those. And, the steps to ready one show will not be the same as

for another, so the museum staff can’t count on a generic list of

"to-do’s," or on simply changing the dates on an all-purpose

Gantt or Pert chart. They must instead think outside the box —

each time. Even then, McCormick admits, there are a lot of those

"wake

up at two o’clock in the morning and say, `oh, my God, I forgot to

. . . !’ experiences, and it’s not unusual on the night before an

opening to still be hanging labels, washing Plexiglas, and setting

lights."

Condition report books — though little-known, a crucial part of

the registrar’s detail-oriented role — just may be the best

example

of the painstaking and on-going scrutiny and documentation necessary

to protect works of art. For "The Embodied Image," it takes

four volumes, each a thick binder, to contain the pages with

photographs

of every inch of the show; just think how many pages a hand scroll

takes. Using codes for the kind of damage possible on paper, fabric,

and stone, the pages of black and white photos are marked in red at

the site of the actual physical damage. For instance, if an edge of

a scroll is torn, that fact is coded on the page with the photo of

that particular scroll section.

To find disrepair or damage, registrar’s staff members minutely

examine

every inch of the art work, recording all they see. And this is done

not just once, but every time the exhibition is packed or unpacked.

"The most important condition check is that initial one —

the one all the others are compared with," McCormick says. "At

that point, we’re looking for changes," she says. "You might

say, ‘Oh, there’s a tear’ — but then you see it was there to begin

with." Such efforts are insurance-driven, of course, although

these records can also help in decisions about whether something

should

travel, for works of art can become too fragile to be loaned.

"When you do condition reports, you don’t see the object, you

see the defects," McCormick says. "Sometimes I step back after

an hour with my nose two inches from the canvas, and I’ll say, `That’s

a really nice painting!’"

"Usually an exhibition with 65 to 70 objects would mean a lot

of crates that would fill a tractor trailer. What’s hilarious about

this show is that everything’s skinny or rolls up into tubes. For

instance, that little hand scroll that rolls up into something smaller

than a roll of paper towels requires a display case that might be

18 feet long! What did take up an entire tractor trailer was all the

exhibition furniture that went out to Seattle," McCormick says

of still another unique aspect of "The Embodied Image"

exhibition.

The Met had chosen to use its own furniture and Seattle was the third

venue. The Met also opted to re-matte the show materials to harmonize

with its own color scheme, so before moving the works of art to New

York, Princeton staff removed the mattings — but kept them for

re-use after the Met show. Then, its mattings were removed so the

original matting could be replaced before the exhibition moved on

to Seattle.

After the show’s four-month stay at the Met, McCormick had to decide

the best way to get "The Embodied Image" from Princeton to

Seattle. The whole world of fine art packing and shipping is just

that, really: a whole world. Depending on the objects — value,

vulnerability, and destination, not to mention the timing involved

— and beginning with insurance, since it is vital to protect even

the irreplaceable, transporting art is itself an art form. And if

art packers and craters are specialists, so too are fine-art shippers,

of which there may be just a dozen in the country, McCormick says.

Well aware of the different levels of service available, she opted

to transport "The Embodied Image" in two shipments, split

by value. Most would go by truck — and not just any truck, but

exclusive-use, air drive, climate control, and non-stop with dual

drivers. "That way, the drivers aren’t crashing at Motel 8;

they’re

taking turns sleeping in the van so they’ll get to Seattle in two

days," McCormick said, some time before the actual trip. She could

not have foreseen the snowstorm that kept the truck on a Montana

highway

for about two days, delaying its arrival in Seattle and shortening

the time for its cargo to rest in a climate-controlled environment.

Ironically or poetically, however you view it, McCormick practically

flew over the stalled truck on her own way to Seattle, where she spent

some days checking and facilitating. She arrived the same day the

truck was unloaded.

A small part of the show reached Seattle via courier.

Just say that much, McCormick cautions. "People know art doesn’t

travel by ox cart any more these days, and they can assume trucks

and planes are involved." (But there’s more to that, of course.

Security in transporting art can involve satellite monitoring and

"guys with guns" — it depends on the work being moved.)

Modern transportation modes notwithstanding, there’s a good chance

that at some time, parts of this show really may have traveled by

ox cart, she laughs.

When a courier is also a registrar, as happened with "The Embodied

Image" and Seattle, that person can lend practical advice besides

delivering the goods. Having worked with the packers and made lists,

McCormick knew what was in each crate, and where. That information

helped determine the sequence of installation tasks — for

instance:

first hang the album leaves, then position the hand scrolls in the

furniture. The same furniture had been painted well before that so

it could "cure" before possible contact with art objects.

And, on a very basic level, because she knew Princeton’s and the Met’s

handling of the stone pillar, or stele, incised with calligraphy,

"I could give them some advice," she recalls, "like,

what’s

the front!"

Located on the ground floor of the art museum’s newest wing, the

registrar’s

office is conveniently near the loading dock and a large work area

where art can be prepared for exhibition or crated for shipping. It’s

easy for McCormick to talk with whoever might be taking photographs,

condition-checking a painting just back from loan, or packing art

for transport. And yes, there are rigorous standards for even the

crates that hold the art: use just enough, but not too much inert

packing material, because too much would lessen shock-absorption;

paint the outsides white for a clean, professional look that

encourages

careful handling, but leave the inside unpainted to take advantage

of the hygroscopic nature of wood. " If a crate’s been in a museum

environment for awhile, it absorbs the moisture. So when you close

the crate, you’ve created sort of a micro-environment. It won’t last

forever, but it serves as a kind of buffer," McCormick explains.

"Pack as simply as possible, and foolproof it for the least amount

of handling," she says. A standing operating procedure for art

packers is using strips of Ethafoam for borders inside a crate, and

simply setting the pieces into that. They might be arranged on a few

levels, or trays, or else "cavity packed" in a space hollowed

out for the size of the object. Another automatic act is hand-listing

the contents of each crate, specifying what goes in, in what order,

for those on the receiving end to check and verify.

This list is conveyed separately, rather than being affixed to the

outside of the crate, which would put its contents at risk by

identifying

them. And even though their configuration might suggest their mission,

art shipping trucks are also unmarked. When the Met transported

"The

Embodied Image" back to Princeton, its own "anonymous"

vehicles were used, but no one knew it — the better to avoid a

message equivalent to "Steal this truck!"

Then there are all the behind-the-scenes insurance considerations.

Although "The Embodied Image" objects were covered under the

university’s blanket insurance policy for fine art, McCormick says,

a special policy was taken out just for the show, "so if there’s

a loss, that policy takes a hit. That way, you’re in good shape with

your basic insurer, and premiums don’t rise." Besides shipping

details, the insurance broker required specifics on the exhibition’s

exact contents, the appraised value of each object, and, though the

market could change, the total value (think millions).

But despite all these steps, "you don’t want the check," she

exclaims. "If there’s not another one of these things out there

to buy, it doesn’t matter!"

As risk manager for the exhibition, McCormick had to decide how to

spread the risk of damage or loss to the show while in transit.

Insurance

underwriters talk about "per-conveyance limits," she explains,

though sometimes if the total value is a little more than the limit,

the premiums can be raised accordingly. And too, she has to think

about the collection — still another reason to ship in pieces,

separately. This called for a courier. Asked who and when and what,

McCormick had the perfect response, delivered with a faux-wicked grin:

"If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you."

Art Museum, Princeton University , 609-258-3788.

"Recent

Acquisitions" features 30 recent gifts and purchases spanning

two millennia. Works on view range from ancient Chinese Han dynasty

funerary figures, the 1968 collaborative Chinese painting

"Revolution

in Justice," pre-Columbian ceramic figures from the burial island

of Jaina, and George Segal’s "Wall Relief: Torso" (1972);

to September 16.

Also "A Tapestry by Karel van Mander" to August 12.

"Seeing

Double: Copies and Copying in the Arts of China," an exhibition

of Chinese art, to November 4. On extended view in the Bowen Gallery,

Richard Serra’s "Weight and Measure" etchings. The museum

is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5

p.m. Free tours of the collection are every Saturday at 2 p.m.

Top Of Page
Art in Town

Cranbury Station Gallery , 28 Palmer Square East,

Princeton,

609-921-0434. Exhibition of prints dating from the 1940s by Princeton

University’s Print Club. On view are prints by commissioned artists

John Taylor Arms, Charles Locke, Leonard Pytlak, John Menihan, and

George Jo Mess. Images include such campus sights as Clio Hall, Dillon

Gym, Stanhope Hall, and Lake Carnegie. Through August.

Historical Society of Princeton , Bainbridge House, 158

Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Today’s News, Tomorrow’s

History,"

a show celebrating 18,000 photographs taken by the Princeton Packet’s

photographers and donated to the Historical Society’s permanent

collection.

The collection documents more than 25 years of development, sprawl,

historic preservation, education, celebrations, and festival, with

images of Princeton’s Latino population, Asian Indians, Southeast

Asians, and Chinese Americans.

Top Of Page
Art in the Workplace

Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb , Route 206, Lawrenceville,

609-252-6275. "Off the Wall," an exhibition of works by 27

sculptors affiliated with Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts,

curated by Kate Somers. Works installed on the grounds, on the rooftop

garden, and in the gallery. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9

a.m. to 5 p.m.; and weekends and holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To September

9.

Featured artists include Alice Aycock, Mel Edwards, Lauren

Ewing,

John Goodyear, Geoffrey Hendricks, George Segal, Keith Sonnier, Herk

Van Tongeren, and Jackie Winsor. Also Bright Bimpong, Chakaia Booker,

Carson Fox, Harry Gordon, Julia Kunin, Todd Lambrix, and Patrick

Strzelec.

Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters Gallery , New

Brunswick,

732-524-6957. In the New Jersey Artist series, an exhibition of

contemporary

works by Iris Kufert-Rivo that explore art historical icons and pop

culture images. A Jersey City resident, Kufert-Rivo has her MFA from

Bard College and works at P.S. 20 in New York. Free by appointment.

To August 21.

Stark & Stark , 993 Lenox Drive, Building Two,

Lawrenceville,

609-895-7386. "Art & Animals," a group show featuring the

work of Betsy Regan, Susan Hanna MacQueen, Leo Ward, Beatrice Bork,

Naomi Savage, and Lynn Sulpy. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday,

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To September 7.

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Art by the River

Coryell Gallery , 8 Coryell Street, Lambertville,

609-397-0804.

The gallery celebrates its 21st annual summer exhibition featuring

the paintings and drawings of National Academy artist Harry Leith-Ross

(1886-1973), an artist raised in England who settled near New Hope

in 1935. Also included in the summer show are gallery artists Joanne

Augustine, Gabrielle Baumgartner, Albert Bross, and Marge Chavooshian.

Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To August 31.

Greene and Greene Gallery , 32 Bridge Street, Lambertville,

609-397-7774. The eighth annual Discoveries Exhibition featuring 100

limited edition and individual jewelry pieces in gold, sterling, and

fine metals with precious and semi-precious stones and gems. Artists

include Sarah Graham, collaborators Steven Ford and David Forlano,

Elaine Unzicker, Nina Mann, Larry Seiger, and Debbie Tuch. The gallery

also features contemporary furniture by Jeffrey Greene. The gallery

is open Monday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11

a.m. to 6 p.m. To September 3.

Top Of Page
Art In Trenton

Ellarslie, Trenton City Museum , Cadwalader Park,

609-989-3632.

"TAWA Invitational," the second of two summer shows featuring

five artists of the Trenton Artists’ Workshop Association. Museum

hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to

4 p.m. Gallery talks are presented each Sunday at 2 p.m.

Top Of Page
Area Museums

New Jersey State Museum , 205 West State Street, Trenton,

609-292-6464. Featured show is "New Jersey, the Garden State,"

an interdisciplinary exhibition of historic tools, prints, and

photographs

created in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture’s Farming

Museum. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45

p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Website: www.njstatemuseum.org.

Also: "The Art of Giving," to August 26; "Aspects of

Abstraction,"

to August 26; "The Garden State: A History of Farming in New

Jersey,"

to August 31. On extended view: "New Jersey’s Native Americans:

The Archaeological Record;" "Delaware Indians of New

Jersey;"

"The Sisler Collection of North American Mammals;" and "Of

Rock and Fire."

American Hungarian Foundation , 300 Somerset Street, New

Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "The Art of Baron Laszlo Mednyansky in

Context: Works from the Salgo Trust for Education." An exhibition

of works by the turn-of-the-century aristocratic artist who disguised

himself as a pauper to paint grim images of the underbelly of society.

Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday,

1 to 4 p.m. Donation $5. To September 16.

James A. Michener Art Museum , 138 South Pine Street,

Doylestown,

215-340-9800. "George Nakashima and the Modernist Moment,"

a major exhibition that aims to recontextualize the work of George

Nakashima within the practice of European modernism. Long recognized

as a major force in the American craft movement, guest curator Steven

Beyer re-evaluates the designer from a European perspective, using

the works of Finn Juhl, Carlo Mollino, Alexandre Noll, and others,

to demonstrate that Nakashima is an important figure in international

modernism. Museum hours Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.;

Saturday

& Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m.

Admission

$5 adults; $1.50 students. To September 16.

Zimmerli Art Museum , George and Hamilton streets, New

Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Continuing exhibitions include: Selected

artists from Mason Gross School of the Arts Graduate Program

1990-2000,

curated by Lynne Allen, Judith K. Brodsky, and Jeffrey Wechsler, in

conjunction with SummerFest 2001. "The Uncommon Vision of Sergei

Konenkov (1874-1971)," to November 14. "A World of Story,"

to July 31. "Japonisme: Highlights and Themes from the

Collection,"

ongoing.

Regular museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.;

Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Call for summer hours. Admission

$3 adults; under 18 free; museum is open free to the public on the

first Sunday of every month.


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