Sonya Clark’s Woven Combs Will Live Permanently at the Brooks!

GREAT news from our chief curator, Marina Pacini: Thanks to the   many people who have generously donated funding, Sonya Clark’s Woven Combs will live permanently at the Brooks! And the artist herself will be here for a lecture on Thursday, August 30.

This blog is written by Andria Lisle Public Relations and Public Events Manager for the Brooks.

Exhibitions Department: Behind-the-Scenes

Did you ever want to know how an exhibition is set up? Or wonder what everyone’s doing behind the closed doors of an upcoming show? Kip Peterson, Collections Manager/Registar here at the Brooks, finally shines some light. Kip is not only super smart, but she’s also really funny and nice. Read on — I guarantee pure enjoyment.

Ever wonder what happens once an exhibition has finished its tour? Well, Mr./Ms. Art Lover, many months of planning go into the take down, or de-installation, of a show. I’ll use Venice in the Age of Canaletto as an example.

Planning for the return of the artworks to each lending institution began about a year and a half before the exhibition opened at the Brooks on February 14, 2010.

Once the doors to the public close, the behind-the-scenes work begins. First, all of the artwork is checked, or condition reported, by a registrar to determine if any changes to the condition of the piece have occurred while on view at the museum. Once that process is completed the museum preparators, or exhibition art handlers, re-pack the work in the crate provided for travel. But wait, I’m jumping ahead, I want to tell you about the many details that happen before we repack the art.

After contacting several art transportation companies for both cost estimates and possible travel dates, an art transport company was selected. Then I contacted each museum registrar informing them that my preliminary plans had their loan being returned sometime during the last two weeks of May 2010. At that time I also asked if the museum intended to send a courier (registrar or conservator) to oversee the packing of their artwork. Granted, it was a bit early, but the exhibition was scheduled to close in May…as in…Memphis in May, and a limited amount of hotel rooms are available in Memphis! Out of the twenty museums lending to the Canaletto exhibition, eight responded that they would require a member of their staff to be present at Brooks when their artwork was re-packed for the return shipment home. Working with the assistant to the director I was able to secure the hotel rooms ahead of time. Check, scratch that off my list!

Next, I determined the exact route that each of the five trucks used to return the artwork to the lending museums, keeping in mind the value of each artwork, due to a predetermined value cap allowed per truck. One of the most important parts of the return process is finding the shortest, thereby hopefully the safest, route by which the artwork will travel. Additionally I must arrange with each museum for their delivery on a particular day, at a certain time, in order to fit their schedule as well as the truck schedule. Each climate-controlled truck will also have a courier – a museum Registrar – riding with the two drivers, overseeing the delivery of the artwork to the lending institution. (Little know fact: the truck has two drivers so that the truck keeps moving along the return route, another safety precaution.) Each courier has a “release” sheet listing each museum, address, contact person, phone number, crate identification number and crate size to be returned. Additionally, there are hotel reservations to make (after days on a truck one needs a shower!) and airline tickets to purchase (each museum courier needs to come home and get back to work!). Whew….

Now, let’s get back to the actual packing of the artwork by the museum preparators. Once repacked all crates are marked with the date packing is completed and a return label is attached. In this instance, because five separate climate-controlled art trucks will transport the returning artworks to the various museums around the country, the crates will also have a “color code” label … i.e. the RED label crates will be loaded on the westbound truck, the GREEN label crates will be loaded on the northeast truck, etc. In this instance it took three separate days for the five trucks to be loaded and begin the long journey home for the artwork.

I was very sad to see this exhibition come to a close. I felt like I was sending my child to her first day of school…without me…as I waved good-bye to each departing truck. This exhibition and catalogue had absorbed most of my work day for several years and now it was gone. Well, now I can look forward to Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 — Present. What a great work life I have!

To learn more about our past, current and upcoming exhibtions, click here.

To learn about events surrounding the Who Shot Rock & Roll Exhbition, click here.

John Salvest: The Finished Consumo Ergo Sum

This time equipped with kneepads (a quick fix to the many hours spent on the floor assembling his art), John Salvest arrived at the Brooks last Thursday to complete his installation of Consumo Ergo Sum.

I, once more, came armed with a camera and questions for the artist. As a follow up to curiosities triggered during our previous meeting, I asked, “Does your art prompt the collection of objects like bottle caps, or do you accumulate the items first and afterward conceive the art?” Mr. Salvest explained that it goes both ways.

He amassed business cards for 8 to 9 years before picturing their artistic design, the result being Nothing Endures (1998). Smoke-Free (2004) proved the exact opposite; he collected cigarette butts with the preconceived idea to shape them into a likeness of the American flag. Consequently, his creative process seems a combination of waiting, deliberation, persistence, and chance.

Smoke-Free and his latest composition Seize the Day (2010), a medicine cabinet filled with pain pills patterned to spell the title, flank Consumo Ergo Sum in the Kraft Gallery at the Brooks. The effect proves a visually and conceptually stunning success. Together, the three works fluently articulate heedless consumption as well as fated transience, and they probe the use and meaning of repetitive, iconic imagery. Mr. Salvest’s artworks also cast back to the Tunisians mosaics just hosted at the Brooks. This reference reveals the influence of an age-old technique on contemporary artistic productions.

Posted casually in front of his accomplished work, Mr. Salvest presented a gallery talk Thursday evening, which proved the perfect capstone to his installation. What began with an engaging narration of the artist’s aesthetic progression and journeys to Tunisia and Turkey led to a fantastic roundtable discussion with the audience. Topics included the conversion of found objects into art objects, the process and psychology of collectors, the use of patriotic symbols in art, and the conservation of contemporary art and material heritage. One theme, above all, resonated: time. Acknowledging a desire to express time in tangible form, Mr. Salvest transforms everyday, seemingly expendable items into unexpected relics. By continuing to accumulate these objects, I believe he demonstrates that time is not meant to be static but rather to move, evolve, and expand—much like his art.

This striking installation will be showcased at the Brooks only through this September. For that reason, carpe diem—seize the day—and come see and consider Consumo Ergo Sum, a work unquestionably worth both the artist and the viewer’s time.

Consumo Ergo Sum: The Intern and The Artist

Meet Meg Jackson, Exhibitions Intern for the summer! Read on to find out more about interning at the Brooks, plus gain an inside look at the upcoming John Salvest exhibition. Come see him work with your own eyes before the installation is complete!

Enthusiasm, ambition, and gratitude—each have proven the norm in the last two weeks as I began my summer internship for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Last Friday morning, these sentiments were joined by a profound excitement and wonder, as my task for the day was to observe and record artist John Salvest install his work, “Consumo Ergo Sum.” Despite being a longtime art history student and an intern in several art institutions, this happened to be my very first opportunity to watch an artist set up artwork in a museum space. Stars filled my eyes, and I am certain I was not alone in my eagerness.

Typically, museum visitors meet screens or doors with signs that read “Installation in Progress” when art exhibitions are under construction. The Brooks, however, decided to put up only a rope at the gallery entrance, which offers guests a sort of backstage pass to the museum’s newest installation. The initial reaction of visitors as they came across Mr. Salvest working turned out to be as charming as the artist himself. Double takes predominated, as people appeared both surprised and curious by the scene. Or, perhaps “consumed” provides the best description.

“Consumo Ergo Sum” consists of bottle caps—various in shape, size, and color—assembled into a map of the United States. The process of installing this art is an interesting mixture of preparation and impulse. The caps are prearranged by color and amount needed to shape each state. Salvest starts with a pattern of the states, which he puts together like a puzzle. After traced, the paper stencil of the state is replaced with the bottle tops. Within the outline of each state, the caps have no particular order, yet Mr. Salvest appears most careful in their arrangement. He attentively places each cap one by one, turns it over and back again, and often changes its position. I noticed that he even once took a pencil to carefully push a lid just a smidge to the right.

Mr. Salvest frequently stood, walked towards the opening of the gallery, and looked at the work from a distance. His expression seemed pensive, engrossed. As I sat there considering the artist as he considered his work, a remarkable thought dawned on me. When examining art, I always have so many questions, many of which go unanswered. Here was my opportunity to ask questions to the person who has the answers. Abruptly breaking the silence, I asked Mr. Salvest, “Having installed this work in such disparate areas as Houston, New York, and now Memphis, are you ever curious as to how differently publics receive your art or your message? For example, is there any sense of, or worry for, regionalism?” So much for a customary icebreaker! Later I ask myself, “Oh, Meg, why did you not lead with ‘Why bottle caps?’ or ‘How did you come up with this concept?’” Hindsight personified would be a comedian, I do believe.

Mercifully, his look of surprise at the eager question gushing from the quiet girl in the corner immediately turned in to one of contemplation. Art today, he says, is received much better and more uniformly thanks to the Internet and other informing technologies. “Is this art?”, Mr. Salvest elucidates, is no longer the primary question when contemplating art. He goes on to say that this is one of the first times he has personally installed the work. Usually, the bottle caps and templates are sent to the exhibition venue for someone else to construct. I immediately recognized his presence as quite the coup for the Memphis Brooks’ staff and visitors—not to mention, the elated intern.

Subsequently, I mulled over the work itself. “Consumo Ergo Sum” means “I consume, therefore I am.” To me, the art comments on consumerism, materialism, and temporality. For my next question (thankfully much smoother in nature and execution), I asked about the collection of the bottle caps. Salvest explained that he collected the tops over time. He also mentioned that he has gathered enough caps to make the map nearly five times the size he usually creates. My mind reeled. How long did such an enormous collection of bottle caps take? Where does he store his gatherings? Does his collection inform his art, or does his art inform his collection? His art necessitates his own consumption, and consequently, this consumption provides a spectacle of consumption for the consuming art audience—oh my, the work seems like an onion in all its layers of meaning! I suppress my urge to set free my many queries and allow the artist to concentrate on his work. I am excited he will be working further on his installation this week, and I foresee his gallery talk Thursday as being both interesting and insightful. I, for one, find myself consumed with curiosity for the artist and his artwork alike, and I have no doubt visitors of the Brooks will be captivated in much the same way.

Botero at the Brooks

In a little over a week, the Brooks will be opening a new exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Fernando Botero.  It’s going to be a really exciting exhibition, and we hope that you’ll come out!  

If you have never seen Botero’s work, imagine if Velasquez painted in the style of Diego Rivera.  He takes the human form and exaggerates its proportions to the point of absurdity.  The result?  Gigantic, quirky, round figures awash in hyperreal color that submit a darkly humorous commentary on the legacy of colonialism in South America. 

Our Lady of Colombia (1992)

Our Lady of Colombia (1992)

Botero is among the most famous living artists from South America (born in Columbia), and we are very lucky to be able to show such an extensive group coming straight from his private collection.  Some of the works have never been seen in public before!  There will be roughly 100 pieces on display – the most complete showcase of Botero’s work that has been seen in the past 30 years.

The Widow (1997)

The Widow (1997)

There will also be three of his oversized sculptures greeting you as you come into the museum.  When they came to install them last week, there was definitely excitement in the air (no pun intended!).  We were watching outside as the crew carefully set them up. It was incredible to see this massive, reclining bronze figure being lowered onto the lawn by cranes. 

The Baroque World of Fernando Botero opens on Sunday, October 19 and is on view through January 11, 2009.  Hope to see you there!