Chicago, Illinois is a city filled with culture and diversity. The streets are overflowing with performance artists, sculpture, and galleries. One can’t go downtown without seeing a flyer for a play that week or an opening reception for a gallery that weekend. All aspects of the city, from the lampposts in Millennium Park to the gardens in the mediums, seem to have been dreamt up through an artistic mind. I couldn’t have ended up in a better place for an artistic internship than the art mecca of Chicago.
After visiting approximately forty galleries, museums, and art centers, and working in one of the largest and most happening art centers in the city, I feel like I got a well rounded experience of creative life in Chicago. I started my trip by going to every gallery I could find to compare and contrast. I learned that there is no one and only correct way to run a gallery. I’ve seen salon style galleries where paintings fill the walls from floor to ceiling. These types of galleries are usually packed with sculpture and exhibit a colorful atmosphere for the viewer. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve seen formal galleries. These galleries are typically more quiet and use the classic [½(height) + 60] – wire formula to display the work at eye level. 4Art, the gallery I had the pleasure of working at for the past three months, was sort of a mixture meaning I got to experience both. I understand that the style of hanging that the gallerist decides to use depends more on the art than on the gallery.
When setting up a show, a good gallery always starts with cleaning up the walls. It surprised me how many sloppy galleries I visited that allowed scratches, chipped paint, and huge holes to take the viewers’ attention away from the art. At 4art, I always started with patching, painting, and sweeping the gallery. Next, the curator gets to decide where to hang the pieces, This is the part where the curator must learn to use their eye. The colors and subject matter must pull the viewer’s eye through the gallery. My mentor and boss, Robin, walked me through this step. She pointed out how to look at a group of pieces, and decide which would look best next to each other. I found that she uses elements of design to make decisions. The element of line, moving between pieces, is a good way to move the eye. Elements of color, in the piece and even the frame, that are either uniform (two black and white pieces together) or complimentative keep the viewer moving from one piece to the next. Positioning of figurative painting or sculpture has a great effect on the viewer. If a face in a piece is facing a corner or another wall, then the viewer will be limited and the movement between pieces may reach an end. The size of the pieces also impacts the balance and harmony of an art show. Larger pieces should be displayed below or between smaller pieces. A curator must pay close attention to detail and understand the viewer’s mind, even if the viewer does not.
Once the pieces were laid out on the walls they would be displayed, it was time to get them up! This was an important process for me because it takes practice and muscles memory to be quick, neat, and efficient at the job. I learned all the small details such as sticking down the piece in a clean way once it is leveled, what types of hooks and nails to use, how to make sure your measuring stick doesn’t run away from you, and more. I feel that I have improved in the past three months in my speed, confidence, and neatness, but I know that the learning and improving process never ends. Once all the work was hung or placed on a shelf, everything had to be cleaned and presentable for the opening reception.
The opening receptions were always a blast. My job was to greet the guests and to help them if they had any questions. More importantly, my job was to make the connection between viewer and artist. Not only was I encouraged to talk to as many artists and guests as I could, but Robin also wanted me to watch. Part of the job as an artist and curator is to become an observer. She showed me the importance of seeing how the viewers react to the show. I met a couple of handfuls of artist that I really connected with. My goal for the future is to keep these connections sparked, and maybe even work together in the future whether it be doing a show together a year from now or in my own gallery ten years from now. These artists did not only become my friends, but they also gave me feedback on the show, life as an artist, and places to visit.
I did not only get to speak to the artists and clients at receptions. I was also invited to observe meetings with Robin and the artists. In these meetings, they discussed finances and planning for exhibitions. The artists brought in their work, and we went over the best way of presentation. Artist to curator communication is important when planning a show.
Outside of art show planning, Robin invited me to observe her framing. I did not actually do framing myself this time around, but I still feel that the experience was well rounded and I learned a lot. I have seen her go through the steps of matting and framing four or five pieces. She would make sure to talk me through each step she was making. Her demos will be of great help to me in the future when I get to frame on my own.
In the end, I definitely feel like I got the experience I was looking for eight months ago when I started applying for internships. I got practice hanging, found insite on curating and opening a gallery, and successfully networked with artists and gallerists. Moving to a new city on my own was an experience all in itself. I am eager to see what the future holds, and I’m excited about where my adventures as an artists and an intern will lead me next summer.
For an in-depth analysis of my day-to-day adventures and experiences, please refer to my previous blog posts.
Patricia Singer, intern.