Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic takes visitors on a landscape journey through 14 different countries. This pan-American experience is the brainchild of curators Peter John (PJ) Brownlee of the Terra Foundation in the United States, Valéria Piccoli of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo in Brazil and Georgiana Uhlyarik of the AGO. We spoke to curator Georgiana Uhlyarik about her five-year-long journey with Picturing the Americas.
AGO associate curator of Canadian art and co-curator of Picturing the Americas, Georgiana Uhlyarik
Each exhibition at the AGO presents special challenges for our installation team. Hanging valuable paintings can be complicated, but some pieces demand a whole other level of planning, on-the-spot problem-solving and good old elbow grease.
Some of the works in the upcoming exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What? were particularly complex to place: one of them, Straight, is a work that consists of no less than 38 tons of rebar (the steel bars that are used during construction to reinforce concrete).
The installation process, led by AGO Senior Project Manager Iain Hoadley, started with the arrival of four flatbed trucks, hauling a total of 40 crates, each weighing 2,500 pounds. The crates were off-loaded in our parking lot with a forklift and then brought into the building through the shipping dock and up a freight elevator to the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion, the exhibition space for According to What? and almost all of our major shows.
Two crews of 10 installed one piece of rebar at a time, working a total of 70 hours over six days to finish the final piece, which measures 40 by 20 feet, varying in height from two to 15 inches off the floor. All staff in the area wore earplugs and heavy duty gloves for this complicated installation.
Given the enormous weight of the work, Hoadley enlisted an engineering consultant for advice on the placement of the work within the gallery space, as well as the thickness of the rebar layers and the placement of the crates during the unpacking process. Straight has been installed in numerous galleries, and each time its presentation is different. Based on our space and the conditions set by our engineering consultant, Ai’s studio provided a layout specific to the AGO. And, since the Gallery has never before hosted a work this heavy, a surveyor monitored the reaction of the pavilion’s floor on a daily basis to ensure safe display conditions were maintained as installers layered the rebar.
More about Straight
Ai created Straight from rebar he recovered from collapsed schoolhouses following the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The artist had every piece of mangled rebar straightened through a laborious process that served as a memorial to each earthquake victim.
This massive work is Ai’s response to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the victims. It also reflects his anger over the government’s desire to move forward as if nothing had happened. The fissure that runs through the centre of the piece represents both the impact of the earthquake and the gulf between values in Chinese society.
Many of the works in our collection are fragile and delicate, but there are some that are fragile and also very, very heavy. In this post, conservator of sculpture and decorative arts Lisa Ellis and mountmaker John Williams explain how our staff members move this kind of work around the Gallery.
Notes on the Storage, Handling and Exhibition Base (SHEB) for Archangel Michael
This superlative and rare sculpture, depicting the Archangel Michael, was an anonymous gift to the AGO in 1997. It is dated to around 1290 and is carved out of limestone.
Depending on exhibition schedules, sculptures at the AGO rarely sit still for any length of time. Instead they tend to move from gallery to gallery and sometimes temporarily reside in storage areas or even travel to other institutions on loan. The AGO conservators and mountmakers assist the Exhibition Services department in the movement of large, fragile objects such as the Archangel Michael. Read the rest of this entry »
Five thousand kilograms is a whole lot of cedar. That’s what the crew in this video had to contend with when they removed Giuseppe Penone’s Cedro di Versailles from the AGO on Feb. 15, 2012.
Cedro di Versailles is an awe-spiring work that stood as the centrepiece of Penone’s exhibition in the Galleria Italia, The Hidden Life Within. His tree-centric works, on loan from a private collector, were chosen to christen the Galleria when it opened after TransformationAGO in 2008. They remained in the light-filled space, lending it vitality and wonder, until February.
Listen to Penone talk about his work at an AGO Meet the Artist event here.
It has been enjoyable following the planning of the AGO’s Maharaja exhibition, but what I have been dying to see is the actual installation process. Finally, I get my invitation.
“Do you have steel-toed boots?” reads the email.
I arrive and I am guided through a labyrinthine set of hallways (I start to panic a little, thinking to myself that it might be a good idea to leave a trail of crumbs behind so I can find my way out). We pass one more set of doors, get my name checked by security and voila, we’re finally here, at a half-finished construction site.
Looking around, I feel like I’m a kid again when my family visited the suburban subdivision where our house was being built. There’s that similar feeling of excitement and wonder. That this work-in-progress will one day be real.
There are the incomplete walls, the cases for objets being built, a half-painted wall and a corner full of plaster dust that leads to a whirlwind of sneezes. One room is full of crates of all sizes, packed together so tightly, you can’t walk between them. A few crates include mannequins who are already partially dressed in vintage saris (it leads to less wear and tear, says the textile conservator).
In another room, paintings and photographs are already hung, but they are covered in craft paper to protect them from the light for just a few more weeks. Fortunately, there is something to see, a silver landau (or carriage) that shines not-so brightly, waiting for its daily polishing.
People are everywhere: the AGO’s own installation technicians, Maharaja team members, and even folks from the Victoria & Albert who have accompanied the work to make sure the installation process goes smoothly (some are here for a few days, others for a few weeks).
Often the work is prosaic – someone has to drill holes in the walls to hang the paintings or lift part of a picture frame ever so carefully out of a crate. But the levels are out, as are the measuring tapes, to make sure the lines are straight.
Welcome to a fairy tale world where perfection is a necessary part of the job description.
Piali Roy is a Toronto writer with a long-held interest in South Asian culture and history. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.