Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hello Dolly

These last stages of the process of putting on a big exhibition are by far the most enjoyable. The book has arrived from the printers in all its splendor. The construction of plinths, pedestals, cases, and other items of bespoke furniture is complete. There is a rich array of power tools, trolleys, dollies, tape-measures, spirit-levels, extension cords, fresh light bulbs, and carts laden with all sorts of screws, nuts, bolts, washers, hooks, and other carefully organized fittings. Such smooth wall surfaces as are, in this High Modernist building, permitted a color are now painted the necessary number of coats, and our choice of a powdery, dry pale blue produces exactly the effect we had hoped for. The signage, object labels, and wall texts have been edited, designed, and are now in production—their careful arrangement around the galleries has been decided. The illuminated vitrines outside the front door are almost done. The sound program is finished, thanks to the efforts of our colleagues in Yale Media. The films have likewise been chosen, and await the installation of the monitor and DVD-player at the end of the exhibition. Templates defining the exact position of every object in the show have now been placed around the galleries, together with stickies that indicate the correct orientation of the accompanying labels. All that remains is for the nearly two hundred objects to arrive, one by one, or in groups according to lender. And then we shall open, and start talking about it to our visitors, non-stop.

Hanging a loan show is for the responsible curators somewhat different from re-hanging the permanent collection because under the terms of most if not all loan agreements the placing and installation of other institutions’ works of art must be carried out in the presence of their representatives, and obviously to their satisfaction. That responsibility almost always rests with the couriers who accompany the shipments. To that end much advance planning is necessary, and very little last-minute adjustment is possible. Still, there are decisions to be made when we go ahead install a borrowed object, once they have been condition-checked: an inch or two up or down, left or right. The unexpected or unforeseen effects of sight-lines or adjacencies and even the friendliness or otherwise of neighboring picture frames sometimes require a little attention. Other small problems inevitably arise, and can usually be solved to the contentment of all. The director must be kept apprised of progress, and her views naturally also taken account of. Certainly we are greatly assisted by the expertise and judgment of our out-of-house exhibition designer the excellent Stephen Saitas; by the meticulousness and indomitability of our registrar, together with the professionalism, steady hands, and shrewd opinions of our installation crew. Their views are always worth soliciting and usually right.

So, four weeks from now we will be up and running. The opening week’s festivities will be behind us. The exhibition will have taken on a life of its own. There is already an enormous 15-second advertisement running roughly every half hour or so on the CBS David Letterman screen at Times Square and Forty-Second Street, with an estimated audience of 1.5 millions. I wonder whether this will generate more than average foot traffic from New York. I hope so. Yale University Press, meanwhile, has high hopes for the publication, which in so many respects seems just now to converge strangely with the recent Downton Abbey phenomenon. It seems that something in the zeitgeist is focusing some attention on my beloved Edwardians. What a very satisfactory state of affairs!

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