Online Edition - May 2000
Issue Highlight - The
An Art In Museum Exhibits
-- In the art museum world, touring exhibits ice the cake in tempting new audiences. Monet's pop up in so many places one expects them to qualify for Frequent Flyer status. These collections and catalogues are the result of teamwork-teams whose members spend months, even years, getting these shows on the road.
-- Exhibits may focus on a single artist, on a well-known collection, on a period in art history or on paintings reflecting a central theme. "Illusions Of Eden: Visions Of The American Heartland," a major touring exhibition which recently opened in the Columbus Museum of Art, reached its theme by mere happenstance.
-- David Fraher, director of Arts Midwest, an organization headquartered in Minneapolis, was on a junket to the Czech Republic. In a conversation with that country's Minister of Education, Fraher referred to the Czech Republic as "Eastern European."
-- "I was quickly corrected," Fraher recalls. "It is Central European, part of a distinct geographic region with its own history and dedication to the arts."
-- En route home, Fraher discussed his error with Ohio Arts Council Director Wayne Lawson. They likened their lack of knowledge concerning Central Europe to that of people who regard the midwest as mere "fly-over" space between New York and Los Angeles.
-- "We began to think about what makes our heartland unique," Lawson explains. "What makes us Midwesterners? Our values? Our farmland or industries? The geography? How have these been reflected in art?" Names like Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton came quickly to mind. So did the idea of a touring exhibition.
-- The Minneapolis organization assists with arts programs for a nine-state region including North and South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency with an international program in support of cultural exchanges. To test exhibition waters, Fraher and Lawson needed assurance of museum participation. Nannette Maciejunes, senior curator for the Columbus museum, and Robert Stearns, senior program director for Arts Midwest, joined in creating a leadership team.
-- Stearns and Maciejunes then formed a scholarship team to plan display choices and overall design. Working with them were two Columbus curators, an art specialist from Detroit and an art history professor at the University of Minnesota.
-- In business and industry, team management most often involves associates working in a specific locale, sometimes within a single building, quite possibly even in adjacent offices. For an exhibit of regional art seeking national support and planning to travel as far afield as Budapest, Vienna and South Dakota, how do teams communicate?
-- "Those of us in Columbus had frequent meetings, but to keep in touch with teams in Wisconsin and in Europe, we made phone calls and sent memos back and forth by FedEx, fax and e-mail," Maciejunes replies.
-- "Our scholarship team chose the era between World War I and World War II as the period best reflecting heartland growth and values," she continues. The team then selected seven subjects: the land, the people, rural life, city life, industry, social commentary and finally, memories, myths and beliefs.
-- The scholarship team made choices reflecting these aspects in Midwestern art. They checked American art books and catalogues. Their "short list" became longer and longer.
-- "We made the wish list knowing compromises would have to come," Maciejunes recalls. "Can we borrow Grant Wood's 'American Gothic'? No. Then, how about the social impact in his 'Daughters of Revolution?' Yes, providing Columbus lends a Georgia O'Keeffe to take its place at The Cincinnati Art Museum. Bartering is coin of the realm when it comes to museum loans."
-- John Owens, senior registrar at the Columbus museum, chairs a registration team following up on these choices.
-- "Few viewers realize the timeframe for a major exhibit," Owens says, pointing out that this Y2K project began in 1995. "Our team identifies ownership for each requested item and determines whether it will be available when we need it. May it tour abroad? Are photos available for a catalogue?" Eventually, the registration team knows the estimated value of each loaned object, handles contracts, arranges for insurance coverage and makes shipping arrangements.
-- As the exhibition scale grows, the leadership team establishes a tentative budget, a figure which will change as costs and support income become more certain. Barbara Robinson, an affiliate of both Arts Midwest and OAC, heads a team seeking corporate funding. Fraher and Lawson also assist in this crucial effort.
-- "Being able to alter an exhibition package in order to meet the needs and expectations of specific sponsors is vital," Fraher points out. Philip Morris is a major sponsor because "two of our five operating companies are headquartered in the Midwest," says Vice President for Corporate Contributions Stephanie French. For others, the exhibit's international focus is a deciding factor.
-- "Matthew Colopy, director of the Ohio Arts Council's international program, forms a team seeking funding and government assistance through cultural exchange," says Maciejunes. Colopy talks with directors of the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna, Austria. It will host "Illusions of Eden" from June 1 through August 15, and, in exchange, is sending an exhibit covering 50 years of Central European art to the United States later this year. After that acceptance, Colopy arranges for "Illusions" to be shown at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest, Hungary.
-- As these teams focus on funding for the exhibition, they receive assistance from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and endorsement of the project from the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The European tour is cited as an official event by the White House Millennium Council. Increased status and funding go hand in hand.
-- In addition to Philip Morris, sponsors now include AT&T and Spike, Inc.
-- Grants come from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Ohio Arts Foundation and other private and public sources.
-- As months pass, the "Illusions of Eden" takes on the concept that Fraher envisioned. Each loan contract adds another painting, an impressive photograph or a period print. At this point, a fifth and final team joins the "Illusions of Eden" project.
-- Beth Fisher, of Arts Midwest, Minneapolis, is named publication coordinator. Her publication team includes five staff members and Minneapolis Designer Stanley Wei. Since the exhibit goes to Europe, they design a 275-page, fully-illustrated catalogue, its text printed in English, German and Hungarian. In the text, Robinson, Fraher and Lawson outline the heartland project. Columbus Museum Director Irvin M. Lippman contributes an exhibition preface. The scholarship team prepares articles concerning the paintings and photographs, the Midwest and its development.
-- "A micro-management team kept everything on track," Maciejunes recalls. "Columbus team leaders met every other week to report on progress or problems."
-- On schedule, the exhibition has its grand opening. In an unusual display pattern, paintings and photographs are hung side by side, depression era photographs reaffirming scenes depicted in the paintings.
-- "Illusions of Eden" teamwork does not end with the exhibition's premiere. The registration team will oversee appropriate packing and shipping for the tour. Among problems for this portion of the exhibit are restrictions placed by some of the lenders.
-- "We have had a wonderful partnership with the two museums involved in the exchange program, but a number of lenders require humidity and temperature controls that many European museums cannot meet," Maciejunes explains. "Some of their museums are in former castles, in palaces that are centuries old. They cannot be adapted to new technology as easily as our modern museums."
-- Works not approved for travel abroad will be replaced by prints of the same image or by the same artist. The State Department is providing assistance in Vienna and Budapest. When these visions of America's heartland return to the United States, cities will include Madison, Wis. and Sioux Falls, S.D.
-- Touring exhibitions are expensive, complex and time consuming. They are also extremely popular.
-- In reply to the opening query, you may find Monets in the Sara Lee exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute, enjoy meeting "Van Gogh Face to Face," in Detroit and see an O'Keeffe collection in Dallas. "Dali's Optical Illusions" are on view at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.
-- Thanks to months and months of behind the scenes teamwork, traveling exhibitions of art masterpieces are on the move.