There’s a bright, public space in the gallery where you can get lost in works straight from the vault: the Marvin Gelber Print and Drawing Study Centre, on level 1. This world-class print room and vault offers a unique space for accessing the our collection of works on paper and photography. We took a behind-the-scenes look with Magdalyn Asimakis, the monitor of the P&D Centre, and the curatorial assistant for 2015’s Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now’s The Time.
Tell us about the Centre, by the numbers (which are pretty incredible).
In a nutshell: we have 20,000 works on paper that span from the 1400s to the present day, and over 50,000 photographs. Our department’s current exhibition, Drawing, Je t’aime, features nearly 100 of our finest drawings—and those are just the tip of the iceberg.
And these are works that aren’t currently on display, so what exactly are they stored in?
The works are stored unframed and matted in solander boxes (which sort of fold open like a clam shell) and map drawers. This is standard practice, and the benefit is it allows us to bring works out of the vault easily for viewing and study.
How can the public come see the works?
Since we opened in ’93, we now have a very active public program that is animated through staff and a dedicated group of volunteers. On Wednesdays, you can drop in the Study Centre between 1pm and 8pm for our Open Door program to see the space and a selection of works on display. And until 4pm that day, we take requests! You can actually ask to have specific works brought out from the vault. We also have free talks on the second Friday of each month at 11am, and a quarterly ticketed talk on Friday evenings called Close Encounters. And each month for First Thursday, we curate a pop-up exhibition in the Study Centre called Out of the Vaults which is very successful. Not to mention we are always hosting classes and taking private appointments.
What surprised you when you started working here?
I was really pleased to learn that the Study Centre’s collection was so central to the everyday work we do. It’s really a hands-on environment. Most days involve going into the vault to see an object or to go through a solander box. The reasons we look at works in the Study Centre vary, whether we are bringing them out for visitors to study during Open Door on Wednesdays; for drawing classes, lectures and exhibition planning; or for examination with colleagues (scholars, curators, and conservators). The collection is really alive and nurtured daily. Opening a solander box or looking at a work up close without protective glass never gets old.
What does a normal day look like for a P&D staffer?
Most of our work takes place behind the scenes. We work closely with colleagues from other departments including collections care specialists, registrars, conservators, library staff as well as curators from other areas. At the moment, we also have a mobile photography unit stationed in our vault to expedite the digitization process of the collection. There is a lot of interest in our works on paper collection, so on any given day you can find artists, curators, scholars and, on occasion, celebrities in here looking at works.
Is there a “Prints and Drawings” moment that stands out for you?
The most interesting moments are when the space is being shared because it creates unexpected connections. One day we had a class of Fine Arts undergraduate students in the Study Centre viewing some relief prints and at the next table was artist Stephen Andrews looking at his own works with Kitty Scott, the Carol and Morton Rapp Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, in preparation for his exhibition at the AGO. As the students were finishing their class, Stephen invited them over and he talked to them them a bit about his work, much to their amazement. The study centre offers a space for curators, artists, and students to have exchanges like these.