Assistant Registrar George Mogg reveals some installation highlights.
One of the most nerve racking aspects of exhibition installation is hanging an artwork in the presence of a courier. Un-wrapping and revealing the painting when it’s been liberated from its traveling crate is often tense. In my role as Assistant Registrar, I help to co-ordinate the epic journeys that the paintings will make from all over the world, so I am hyper aware of their vulnerability, and always relieved when they arrive here unscathed.
The daunting aspect of unpacking a work with a courier is compensated by the moment afterwards, when you look at the work together. In the first instance the courier will be quickly scanning the work to check for any obvious issues or changes which may have occurred in transit, whereas I am enjoying looking at the piece for the first time in the flesh. I will have looked at a reproduction countless times in the last 6 months, preparing for the exhibition, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. The first painting that we hang in the exhibition is Airscape, a large unglazed work measuring 125 x 186cm, and as we place it onto foam blocks for condition checking, the unprotected canvas trembles. The inevitable period of waiting around before hanging allows for a pleasurably informal look at the work with the courier. She points out to me the threads and fluff that are visible on the surface of the painting – trapped in the paint. We briefly discuss what a tragedy it would be if these bits of detritus were to fall from the surface – as they would lift with them a layer of the paint. I realise anew how fragile this work is. She highlights a hair that is in the bottom right corner of the canvas, part of which is lifted from the surface – the two ends pinned in the paint. It occurs to me that she probably always checks to see if it’s still in place… and I’m relieved to find that it is.
As we offer the work up to the wall, so that the exhibition co-curator Dr Barnaby Wright can take a look at the position, the canvas lies a few inches away from my face. I can look at the brush strokes and other marks in the paint’s surface in great detail. This feels very intimate, and suddenly you feel close to the work and the action of painting. Perhaps it’s the lack of glazing – but these works do feel fresh from the studio. I have time to explore the canvas as we experiment with the height of the work, raising and lowering it; Barnaby is aiming to evoke feeling of being immersed in the picture plane. These are large paintings, and we settle on a centre line of 155cm so that when the viewer stands a meter away, the canvas fills their vision without needing to look up. This perhaps creates a slightly vertiginous sensation of looking down into a landscape. It’s a key point in the installation – this decision will determine the height of all the works that we hang, so it’s got to be the right call.
After hanging and pinning the painting we thank the courier for bringing over the work. 1 down, 17 to go…