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Work in Progress: Installation planning in At Work

July 16th, 2010

Kendra Ainsworth is a Masters candidate in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and is an Interpretive Planning intern at the AGO.

Before I started working in museums and galleries, I never really thought about the placement and installation of elements of an exhibition; I just enjoyed seeing and learning about art and artifacts. I didn’t wonder whether a painting was hung in a certain space only because it wouldn’t fit on another wall, or whether a text panel was placed so that it would be one of the first things you saw from the entrance to the exhibit. These are important considerations, and I am glad I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the process of installation planning.

The placement of the art in At Work: Hesse, Goodwin, Martin is the responsibility of the curators, but so many different factors have to be taken into account, and curators get input from many different sources. Designers figure out how everything fits on the floor plan, and engineer the display elements. Conservators decide whether a given work is too fragile to hang near a window, where sunlight could damage it. Preparators determine the best way to install a work given its size, weight and materials, and the desired location. And interpretive planners point out how the placement of art can shape the message of the exhibit, and influence visitors’ interpretations.

One of the major installation projects for At Work involves archival material from Betty Goodwin’s studio. We want visitors to see how Betty Goodwin worked through her ideas and planned her artwork, and we think a great way to do this is to exhibit her many, many notebooks, which contain her sketches and writings. We want to place them right next to some of her finished works, so that you can see both the early stages and end products of her creative process. So laying out the notebooks (there are over 80 of them!), and constructing and placing cases for them is occupying everyone’s minds right now.

Betty Goodwin studio, rue Coloniale, Montreal, April 29, 2005. Documentary photographs by Amy Furness, AGO.

Exhibition services staff member Cecil working on the cases for At Work

And, as I mentioned, this planning process isn’t just applied to art! We have to decide where to put text panels, audio stations, and video screens. What makes sense in terms of the message of the exhibit? Are visitors more likely to notice a text panel if we put it on the left or the right side of the room? Will visitors have enough room to move around if we put a case here? Are electrical outlets available for the video locations? These are all very basic pragmatic concerns, but they are so important to the outcome of the exhibit. As much as it is a lot of work, this process really lets us see how everything is coming together.