Selecting works for The Enchanted Garden

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Wednesday 17 September 2008
Mary Kisler

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Perhaps the hardest thing when commencing preparation for an exhibition is selecting works for the show. After building up a possible list off the database, the curator spends a number of days in the Gallery’s art stores. That is when the fun starts, as far as I am concerned, because while any work that has been exhibited is mounted in a cardboard matt with a backing board, there are often loose prints or drawings or watercolours, each housed in folded acid free tissue to protect the work.

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These have never been matted, or therefore exhibited, and simply lie quietly in their box hoping their turn will come. Some, of course, may never see the light of day – perhaps they were acquired long in the past – we have lots of prints and drawings of sheep, for example, because early donors were homesick for the Scottish Highlands– or because over time the work has degraded and cannot be treated, so that it become unexhibitable.

For every one of those, however, there will be a hundred or so works which catch the eye, and what should be a short task stretches because it is impossible to resist the temptation to go through each box in its entirety. In this way, curators really get to know their collection.

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When I first started working at the gallery in 1998, I used the contents of the boxes to get ideas for possible exhibitions, building lists of themes, such as Politics, Death, Theatre, etc. We didn’t have the great database and website we have now, but I still go back to these lists just to check that there isn’t some work that has slipped off the radar. These are added to my exhibition list, which I then print out with small images and locations. Then the hard work really starts, because each one has to be examined, the vertically challenged often requiring helpers who can pull out heavy painting racks, and assist with carrying some of the heavier solander boxes. Sculptures are trickier, because they are usually packed in crates, but as we have fewer they tend to be familiar.

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The works have to fit the brief, and all be approved by the Gallery Conservators before final approval, and inevitably certain works get eliminated during the process.

This is the second of my series of posts on the planning process for my upcoming exhibition The Enchanted Garden. To read the first post, click here.

image credits from the top:

The old print room

Conservator at work

Joseph Moran Granny Smith gouache
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki gift of Mrs K M Marsh, 1976

Harold Knight White Clematis oil on canvas
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki purchased 1912

Johann Ladenspelder, after Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve after 1504 engraving
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, gift of Wallace Alexander, 1940