“The Object Show”, the Museum of Art’s latest exhibit which features pieces from various deparments of the College, opened last night. The exhibit spans from before the College’s founding to more recent times, with pieces like James Bowdoin’s wardrobe and a stuffed lobster. It will be on display in the Museum’s Osher and Halford Galleries through next June.
The show was installed over a period of three weeks. Last week, the galleries were filled with nothing but empty cases, and the last of Prendergast paintings had just been sent back to their museums of origin. Yesterday morning, most pieces had been mounted and placed in their cases, but there was still last minute tinkering to be done. Many of the labels had not arrived, and some wall text still had to be put up.
Co-director of the Museum of Art Frank Goodyear explained that this was not an uncommon circumstance.
“This is the funny secret about museums,” said Goodyear. “No matter whether you’re a museum that is large or small, you are working on these projects literally to the day the show opens.”
Jose Ribas is one of the Museum’s preparators, and his chief responsibility is working with curators to install these exhibits. An alumnus of the Class of 1976, Ribas began working at the Museum as a first-year student. He now leads a team of preparators in handling and mounting all of the pieces seen in the show.
“We take it from beginning to end. We get the walls ready. We get the cases ready. We’re guiding it through the whole process,” said Ribas.
This process begins with the exhibit curators mapping out the exhibit on paper. Preparators will then take this sketch and bring it to life.
“I work closely with Joachim [Homann, the exhibit’s curator]. He has the vision,” he said. “It’s the two of us working together to figure out how the layout’s going to work.”
“The Object Show,” Ribas notes, poses unique challenges for installation because the three-dimensional nature of the show requires more than wall hangings.
“Paintings, you lay them on the floor you see what goes together well. You’re using one height, eye level. There’s not much more that you can do with it,” said Ribas. “With this stuff, we’re going to have to play with boxes, and how to light it, and mounts. ”
His colleague, Assistant Preparator Jo Hluska, agreed.
“You light a painting from one side, one surface. With a 3D object, you light it from all angles. You have to watch the shadows so nothing disappears,” he said.
“Everybody thinks it’s easy but none of it is easy,” said Ribas.
Both explained that they took significant precautions in their work due to the delicate nature of the pieces.
“It’s about being patient,” said Hluska. “That’s what makes things safe. You can’t speed. You can’t rush.”
When the preparators are not in the process of installing an exhibit, they work in the Museum’s storage space. Sometimes they’re returning pieces from exhibits that have closed back to their proper place. At other times, they’re scouring the collection for pieces for classes.
When Goodyear arrived at the College this summer, the Object Show had already been on the Museum’s calendar. He points to it as the kind of exhibit he hopes to promote during his tenure with his wife and Co-Director Anne Collins Goodyear.
“[The show] take[s] advantage of the expertise and collections not only here at this museum, but expertise across campus,” said Goodyear.
He hopes the exhibit will spur a new discussion on campus about material goods.
“We think that this will be an interesting show because it will give the opportunity to talk about the significance—culturally, economically, politically— of material objects,” said Goodyear.
One prominent part of the exhibit is the Tiffany bracelet that Joshua Chamberlain gave to his wife, Fanny. It’s inscribed with the names of all the battles he fought in during the Civil War and is normally on display in Special Collections.
“I think people will find this exhibit is filled with all sorts of gee whiz moments,” he said. “We’re going to develop a bunch of public programs that demonstrate how objects matter to different academic fields.”