Curatorial School in Session

By: Matt Foss, assistant director on November 28th, 2012

One of the benefits of working at the Woodson Art Museum is being privy to the installation of temporary exhibitions such as Gather Up the Fragments: The Andrews Shaker Collection. As the unofficial “muscle” of the operation, most of my work during installation week revolves around moving artwork, exhibit cases, movable walls, and other large objects. However, as a person learning how to be a museum curator, I always have my eyes open to watch curators Andy McGivern and Jane Weinke place artwork and artifacts, move them around, and finally decide how to lay out an exhibition. I think it’s important to exercise the cerebrum as well as the biceps.

Frequently, I ask questions: Why would this go there? Does it have enough room for a label? Who chose this color for the walls? Although sounding like an insufferable pest, my goal is not to annoy but to learn. I was not formally trained in Museum Studies, so I’m picking up an education on the fly, learning from two of the best. With over sixty years of combined experience in curating art exhibitions, they’re like an old married couple, with occasional disagreements, frequent episodes of “selective” hearing, but mostly in complete agreement on all decisions. “You’re wearing that shirt?”

Recently, when I curated an exhibition for the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame about the career and life of longtime Packer photographer Vernon Biever, I channeled my inner Andy and my inner Jane. I hung and laid out the framed photos the way I thought Jane would do it, and I used a page from Andy’s playbook (pun intended) to display Biever’s personal effects, including cameras and sideline clothing. The Packers Hall of Fame was even able to reconstruct his actual darkroom, where he developed photos documenting over sixty years of Packer and NFL history. The darkroom in the exhibit attempts to live up to Jane’s re-creation of Owen Gromme’s studio in Owen J. Gromme: An Enduring Legacy.

Although I have learned a lot over the past two years under Andy and Jane’s tutelage, I have a long way to go. So, if you happen to stop by the Museum during an installation week and you see me hanging from a ladder on the circular staircase, covered in fresh paint, or loading one of several large exhibit crates onto a Mayflower truck, just remember that school is also in session.

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