The Benefits of Experience

By: Jane Weinke, curator of collections/registrar on April 14th, 2009

The permanent collection galleries are newly installed – whew – walls freshly painted in Anjou pear, a perfect color to complement Striking Poses: Birds with Attitude.

Two questions inevitably follow new installations: how are the artworks chosen and what inspired the wall color.

Answers to the first question. Choosing a theme and identifying corresponding paintings, works on paper, and sculpture offer many options. If an initial goal is to present works not recently exhibited, those possibilities are easily determined by a database search, where each object in the collection has a corresponding record that includes images, exhibition and loan history, and location. The Woodson’s bird-and animal-themed collection numbers 2,000+, so while identifying theme-based artworks can be daunting, it can be accomplished with relative ease. Recent acquisitions are another consideration. In 2008, seventy-five works were added to the collection, and double that number were added in 2007. Keeping these criteria in mind inevitably sparks ideas that get honed into an exhibition theme.

The inspiration for Striking Poses: Birds with Attitude began with my selection of two abstract-styled works, Likeness of a Crow by Leonard Baskin, and Wounded Gull by Morris Graves. I expanded the theme to birds placed in atypical surroundings, such as the Canada geese in Dick McRill’s Cacklers, and then to avian friends in curious poses, such as Thomas Hill’s Running Bound-wire Bird. The exhibition comprises forty-five works, including recent acquisitions: Winter Finch by Suzanne Stryk; The Goldenrod Gang by Andrew Denman; and Young Rook by Adelaide Murphy Tyrol.

The south galleries dedicated to the permanent collection are the only large spaces where the wall color is routinely changed. The golden-yellow background of Steven Porwol’s Pheasants inspired my Anjou pear color choice. The color is both startling and stunning. Do I sometimes doubt my choice of color – oh yeah – but this is the first time I questioned it out loud. When first rolled on the walls, the paint did not translate from the color swatch, nor was it as I envisioned. But after a little drying time and reassurances from colleagues, my nervousness abated. I’m awed by the results and I hope visitors will be too.

The process may sound complicated in writing, but by simply beginning with a list of themes and adding specific artworks to support the concepts, an exhibition takes shape. Of course, having an intimate knowledge of the Woodson’s collection and thirty years of experience doesn’t hurt the process either.

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