Posts Tagged 'preparator'

After Midnight: When the artwork is an early riser

Eight months ago, I joined the Dallas Museum of Art as the Director of Collections Management, helping to oversee the care of our art collection—both on and off the walls in our galleries and for our special exhibitions.  As part of that responsibility, I supervise the Museum’s team of preparators and registrars. Preparators are the staff who actually handle the art and are responsible for installing the artwork you see hanging in the galleries. Registrars, among other duties, are in charge of all logistics and coordination of loans coming to the DMA. Members of our excellent team have written about their adventures on Uncrated before (relive some of those stories here, here, here, here, and here!).

Last month we were all focused on the arrival of paintings from around the globe for our newest special exhibition, Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga.

Art travels in specially built crates, and there are particular companies that coordinate the shipping and customs procedures for works of art. The DMA Registrar staff works in close contact with these companies to make sure the works are safe and sound at all times. They know what size crate can fit in the cargo hold of different aircrafts and all possible flight options. We are kind of the travel agent for the artwork! We know that if a crate is higher than 63 inches it means that it will need to fly in a cargo plane.

That was the case for some of the most amazing artwork you will see in Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga, which opens at the DMA on February 8. We had 30 crates of 52 works of art travel from Japan to Dallas accompanied by the staff from the Japan Foundation and couriers from two of the lending institutions, the Mie Prefectural Art Museum, and the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art.
Truck arrival

As there is no need to cater to passengers, cargo flights tend to leave and arrive at not the most convenient times. They are likely to arrive in the middle of the night—or in the middle of the morning, depending on how you look at it!

Truck manovering

The Shiraga and Motonaga works arrived at the DMA on a cold January night. Registrar and Preparator staff, armed with lots of coffee, good attitudes, and heavy coats, were at the DMA to receive the shipment. Our galleries were dark, and so was the night outside. Under the watchful eyes of our Security staff, we worked just as we would during the day, moving quickly and carefully. Preparators unloaded the big truck and moved the crates into our galleries. There they would acclimatize—a museum term for adjust to the current conditions (sort of like getting over jet lag)—for a 24-hour period. Afterward, these beautiful works were uncrated and installed in the presence of their couriers.

Truck at dock

I hope you will visit the DMA soon and enjoy this stunning exhibition!

Isabel Stauffer is the Director of Collections Management at the DMA.

Interview with a…Preparator!

There are many different positions here at the Dallas Museum of Art. Since there is always something exciting going on at the Museum, we thought it would be interesting to begin a series of staff interviews with members of other departments.

Installation of Semiramis, by Henry Wetmore Story, 1872-73

The below interview was conducted with Vince Jones, Head Preparator. He graciously answered questions related to his job.  I hope you find this as interesting as I do!

Amy Wolf
Teaching Programs Coordinator

1. Name and Title:  Vincent Jones……..Head Preparator

2. Years Employed at the Dallas Museum of Art:  14

3.  Describe your job as  a preparator in an art museum:  The essential job of a preparator is to safely handle the artworks that are permanently acquired and/or on loan to the Museum.  For obvious reasons, this job position is also referred to as an “art handler”.  The word “preparator” refers directly to the tasks of moving and installing (or “preparing”) artworks as part of an exhibition.  Subsequently, when an artwork is not on view, then it is placed (or “prepared”) in museum storage or returned to its lender.  Every day at the DMA, preparators like myself move artworks in and out of storage to be installed, photographed, or examined by other museum staff such as registrars and conservators.  It is the preparator’s job to know how to perform these duties patiently and with the utmost care to the objects. 

4.  What is your favorite part of your job?  A favorite part of my job is the opportunity to handle and closely inspect works of art that, for whatever reason, have some special meaning to me.  It feels like an honor in a way, and that is certainly a rewarding experience.  The Portrait Vase of Mme. Schuffenecker by Paul Gauguin is a piece in the DMA’s collection that comes to mind.  If I saw this artwork in another museum, I’d be thinking how weird and beautiful and odd it is; well, working here, I get the chance to pick it up occasionally.
Another favorite aspect is the opportunity to work with contemporary artists who come to the Museum to oversee or install their artwork.  Working with the artist Richard Tuttle several years ago is still a favorite highlight of mine.  I am a big fan of his art, so watching him handle and talk about his own work was a treat.

5. What is a challenge that you face in your job?  For me, one of the most interesting challenges of being a preparator is the continual re-thinking of how we move and install various heavy, complicated, or fragile artworks.  The large marble sculpture Semiramis by William Wetmore Story and Matthew Barney’s The Cloud Club are examples that have required this consideration.  We have successfully installed both works several times now, but inevitably we say to each other, “This technique works, but if we reconfigured the platform a bit or bought an additional piece of equipment next time, the installation would be even better”.  By better, I mean less stressful and safer for the object and the preparators.

6. How did you decide you wanted to work in a museum?  I can remember as a kid going to a museum in Wisconsin and seeing an installation entitled “Streets of Old Milwaukee” (or something to that effect).  It was essentially a life-sized (or at least to a kid) re-creation of a turn-of-the-century downtown “scene” at night.  It had real brick streets and wooden sidewalks that you walked on, and there were many shops to peer in and see fake people selling candy or cutting hair.  Anyhow, what struck me the most at the time were the trees.  They seemed very life-like and one was particularly huge, and I remember looking at these on several occasions and being fascinated by how they were made and how they came to be there.  Well, now I think I know the “how’s and why’s” of the artificial trees but that place and experience made a big impression.  I’ve always liked going to museums (mostly natural history), but once I became interested in making art myself and became educated about fine art, I liked those museums as well.  At one point I just thought, “Wow, this would be a cool place to work”.  I’ve worked at museums for 20 or so years now and have been very happy with that decision. 

7. If you weren’t working here at the Museum, what is something else you would be doing?  That’s a good question.  I guess I would try devoting more time to making my own artwork.  Also, I have secretly always wanted to drive one of those big bulldozers at a landfill.  Seriously.


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