How to Safely Install Exhibitions: Behind the Scenes With Our Lead Preparator, John Osorio-Buck
I have been a part of the installation crew at the List Center for over twenty years! As Lead Preparator I work with our Gallery Manager and a small team of preparators. We serve a variety of different roles, but our primary function is the installation and deinstallation of art objects. Our “shop” is located directly behind the Hayden and Reference galleries, which is where we create and construct elements for each exhibition.
As we prepare to reopen our galleries to the public, we wanted to share an aspect of our work that many of our visitors don’t often get to see!
What does a preparator do?
Before an exhibition is ready to open to the public, we work closely with several members of the museum staff to prepare the space and install the artwork. This process usually includes the following:
- Before the artwork even arrives at our loading dock, we work with the curatorial team to understand how the space will be designed. Sometimes this means building temporary walls, creating pedestals, designing wall text, sourcing audio/visual devices, or planning light fixtures.
- When the artwork arrives in its shipping crates, we work closely with with our Registrar and Curator to unpack, check the conditions, and care for the objects.
- Next we get to work on the installation. Every exhibition requires a different set of skills and tools. For our Student Lending Art Program exhibition, we work quickly to hang over 600 works of framed art on our walls. Whereas, with some site-specific installation projects, we might work more directly with the artists and curators to test things like sound, lighting, or projections.
- Once an exhibition comes to a close, we carefully deinstall and pack the art objects and any exhibition materials that might be traveling with the show. Sometimes this requires creating specially crafted shipping crates that are custom fit to the shapes and dimensions of the artwork. Once one show comes down, another one goes up and the process starts all over again.
How will we install exhibitions in the wake of COVID-19?
The Coronavirus has certainty brought several changes to the way we do our work. While we have been closed for the past few months, we have been hard at work planning for our re-entry into the galleries.
We are anxious to get back to work, but before we can enter our workshop, we have to address the reality that our work place will not be the same. The safety of our crew and visitors is of the utmost importance to us. Our crew works collaboratively and sometimes that means working in close proximity to one another.
In order to ensure our crew’s safety, we’re creating what we’ve called “Common Sense Safety Kits.” Each crew member will be issued a tool kit at the beginning of our deinstallation and installation process. Each kit will contain all the hand tools we use on a regular basis so we don’t have to share. The kits will also contain specialized safety items; gloves, masks, googles, face shields, hand sanitizer, and alcohol wipes.
We look forward to safely working in the galleries and sharing our upcoming exhibitions with you as soon as we’re able to reopen our doors to the public.
See you soon!