September 30, 2010

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Behind the paintings
Currier exhibits shows how they got there
By Adam Coughlin acoughlin@hippopress.com

A new exhibit at the Currier Museum of Art will allow viewers a rare look behind the scenes of an art museum in the hopes of creating greater appreciation for art and all the hard work that goes into displaying it.

In an effort to answer the many questions received from audience members, the Currier Museum of Art has put together its most difficult exhibit, according to Kurt Sundstrum, associate curator. “The Secret Life of Art: Mysteries of the Museum Revealed” will open on Saturday, Oct. 2, and is meant to fill in the blanks on how a work of art goes from a painter’s studio to a place in front of the eyes of the viewing public.

“Like a play in the theater, when we have an exhibit we put on a show,” Sundstrum said. “Often the public doesn’t know how it happened, but there is always a curiosity for the process.”

Sundstrum said museums, like many segments of society, are trying to be more transparent and, as a result, make an exhibit appeal to a larger audience.

“Every object in the museum is hundreds of years old and has its own story and biography,” Sundstrum said. “These works of art have traveled more than most people. They have interesting stories but can’t tell them themselves. We have to be their voice.”

On these journeys, the paintings receive stickers, much like stamps on a passport. The Currier will showcase the 1932 painting “Cross by the Sea,” by Georgia O’Keeffe. The painting will be shown so you can see the front and the back. The back will include the 22 labels that record its history and ownership over the last 70+ years.

The exhibit, which takes up the entire new addition of the museum, is broken down into categories to aid the viewer. The exhibit will also be one of the first at the Currier to use multi-media aspects; it will include narrative videos and audio guides from scholars and curators from around the country.

Basically, the exhibit will include everything that is not typically included in the gallery. These stories, which are so rich in history, are very hard to put down in 50 words on a typical label that accompanies a painting.

“Really you could write a 30-page paper on each of the objects,” Sundstrum said.

One such narrative, which will be explained in full, is about two paintings that were stolen by the Nazis during World War II and were only recently returned to the rightful owners in Vienna, Austria. The owners have agreed to loan the paintings to the Currier, which will be the first time they have been viewed in the United States.

Sundstrum said he hopes the exhibit changes the way people view the objects and makes them aware of all the work that goes into creating, acquiring and interpreting the art. Sundstrum also said he is interested in the public’s response to the exhibit because it could change the way the Currier shows works in the gallery.

Other areas that will be explored will be how the Currier decides which paintings to acquire through auction or which gifts to accept. There will also be plenty of information on how works of art are transported and how they are conserved. For conservation, there will be before and after photos to see how a painting can be improved with the proper care.


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