The Art of Installation
Behind the scenes in the Mansion galleries.
by Lesley Morris, Director of Mansion & Galleries
How many of us have walked through a gallery or museum and noticed a sign that read “closed for installation?” Strathmore’s exhibition team installs exhibitions during all hours in a short, seven-day period. It takes a dedicated team, exceptional artwork, and a year—or two—of planning. Our goal has always been to install art carefully, so it speaks a visual language and allows viewers to connect, be enriched, or be entertained.
Planning for an installation begins long before the artwork reaches the walls. We start by collecting images, dimensions, framing details, pedestal requirements, and label information. Eventually, each artist delivers their artwork, and our team confirms all the information is correct. This process can take a few minutes or a few hours if sorting and assembly is needed, as in the case of a large table from the Interiors exhibit, Kaleidoscopes from the Brewster Society, or Kites from the Up in the Air show. Once all the work is onsite, the crew gathers to assess any installation challenges and plan individual tasks.
As the Director of Mansion & Galleries, I take a very active role in installing artwork, along with a small and mighty team, including Exhibitions Administrator Ari Edwards, our installer, Erik Wertz, and operations team member, Larry Pauling. Ari and I work with artists individually and in groups to plan the exhibitions. Erik and Larry join us to hang the artwork, and we all find ourselves doing a bit of painting, building, moving pedestals, and lighting the rooms.
Arranging the artwork is the biggest challenge. When installing a solo artist, there’s usually a style that connects the pieces, and often the frames may coordinate. When we have curated or juried exhibitions, elements of the artwork are often dissimilar and need extra coordination for complementary placements.
Placement should take the viewer from one piece to another in a gentle progression. We want the viewer to stop at something they find engaging, then naturally move on when their journey with the work comes to a satisfying end.
Several factors come into play when deciding how many pieces of art go on a wall and what will be next to them. Color is important, as is the size of the work and the movement in the piece. For us, the action in the art from one side of the canvas or the object to the other side is critical. We want eyes to travel the pathways of the art, whether it be actual rivers or streets, or the abstract connections of brushwork or patterns. Diagonals, crosses, and ascending or descending shapes impact how long we view artwork. Complementary colors, such as tangerine orange and robin egg blue, create harmony in the galleries.
After placement is decided, there are about three days to install the work. The ideal height for viewing artwork usually falls between 59 and 65 inches to the center of the artwork. With the Mansion’s beautiful decorative moldings, panels, and doorways, it’s hard to achieve a height that fits all scenarios. We often change it up, depending on the spaces and number of pieces on the wall.
Objects and sculptures require floor space and may sit atop pedestals throughout the galleries. We ensure that fixtures are level, sturdy, and can withstand the weight of a bronze sculpture or glass vessel. We consider how many people are in the rooms at once, as well as accessibility needs, like for wheelchairs. The artwork must be able to be appreciated by visitors at all heights, standing or sitting. Among all these considerations is the safety and security of the art.
Some of our favorite installations offer us a chance to try something new, like installing art from the ceiling, dramatically suspending sculptures, lights, and textiles for unexpected delight. We have installed wooden birds in flight during the Timber exhibition, a window and paper flower in Paperworks, and a whirlwind of leaves in the Purpose-Repurpose! exhibit. It’s exciting to turn a corner and see something unpredictable!
It’s a lot of work, but we always have fun in the process! From time to time we wonder how it is going to be accomplished. But artists have limited availability to exhibit their work, so it’s imperative to honor their experience and expectations. It’s our mission to deliver the best possible experience for our visitors and artists in search of a creative experience and human connection.
Strathmore is grateful to our many donors whose contributions help ensure that our exhibitions remain free to the public! We especially want to recognize and thank Karen Lefkowitz and Al Neyman for their generous annual sponsorship of an exhibition, and HelenLouise Pettis for her steadfast commitment to support our Invitational Gallery.
Tue–Sat, March 21–April 29
Opening Reception: Thu, March 23
Known for her bold marks and use of texture, Surakitkoson returns to the Mansion with paintings and wall sculptures that reflect on her experiences since moving to the United States 19 years ago.
Play is a pathway to connection, innovation, and renewal. In this juried exhibition, we invite artists to “play” in representation and in abstraction.
Generous support for exhibitions in the Invitational Gallery provided by HelenLouise Pettis.