For my summer project, I had to do voluntary work at an art gallery. Either for a day or a week, I had to work in a gallery and gain experience from it, like how to set up an exhibition, how to display the artwork in the perfect manner and showing visitors around.
I looked and looked, but finding voluntary work proved very difficult. Fortunately, my mother suggested I look into working at the Sarah Wiseman Art Gallery in Summertown. It is a very popular, if small, gallery in Summertown. It has a diverse collection of paintings, ceramics (bowls) and pottery from various artists.
I wanted to work for any gallery, and this one sounded very good, so I sent an email and waited for a replay. Sarah did reply and she asked me to come down so we could arrange for me to help her set up the next exhibition.
I went to see her last month, we talked about why I wanted to work with her and what I hoped to gain. Sarah was very kind and agreed to take me on as a volunteer for one day, on September 1.
I had a look around the gallery, and I liked what I saw. It was an impressive collection of paintings, ceramics and pottery. Each piece of art was displayed well and in a professional manner.
When I arrived on Thursday, Sarah told me what we had to do: take down all the paintings from the August exhibition and put up artwork for the September exhibition. The artwork we had to hang up were 20 paintings by Daniel Ablitt. Titled “Seeking Light”, the theme of Ablitt’s paintings depicts landscapes and the effect they have on people, as shown by his depictions of people in the woods, walking on mountain paths or staring at the lights in the distance. Calm, poignant and almost dreamlike, Daniel’s paintings invoke powerful emotions in the viewer.
Title: Woodland Glow, 2016
Materials: Oil on board
It was just me and Sarah working together all day, and we did a pretty good job.
First, we had to unpack Daniel’s paintings, being very careful not to tear the bubble-wrap when removing the cargo tape (Sarah wanted to re-use the bubble wrap). Once we had unpacked all the paintings, we had to decided where each painting should hang. When hanging paintings, you need to really think about where you want to hang them, which space is the best and if you can display them in a certain pattern.
Cherished space (counter-clockwise left) and Trust, 2016
Oil on Boards.
I faced a similar problem while hanging my artwork for my first London exhibition and my studio exhibitions. Eventually, we managed to hang each painting in their desired spaces. Before we could hang the rest of the paintings, we had to take down the paintings from the summer exhibition. Taking the paintings down was pretty easy, but hanging up the new ones was exhausting work. I had to hang them by the strings at the back, sliding them onto small hooks, adjusting the hooks so they are level with each other and checking to see if the paintings looked crooked or not. It was hard work, but it was worth it.
After lunch, I went back to the gallery and proceeded to stick labels with the titles of each painting next to them. Sarah gave me the password to access the internet in the gallery, so I could look up the names of each painting on the website and stick each label next to their respective painting.
Waiting (City Lights) 2016
Oil on board
With some time left, Sarah and I decided to rearrange the pottery and ceramics in the gallery, putting some under or across from some of the paintings.
Di and Anthony Edmond’s Tydd Pottery (top) 2016
Jane Muir’s Little Ladies, Little Men, Five Men in Box and Snowbirds (bottom) 2016
Once that was done, we decided to hang up the window displays. First, we removed the summer displays, as well as the iron resin statues and hand blown glass bowls.
Putting up the displays was just as difficult as putting up the interior paintings, and I did get frustrated at certain points. But, with Sarah’s guidance and help, we managed to hang the final three paintings up on the walls.
Lantern path (left) and Still Water (right), 2016
Oil on Boards
As you can see, I tried to take pictures of the window displays, but because of the light from the sun, I got a reflection from the window. Sarah suggested I try to take pictures from an angle and away from the light. In the end, the pictures turned out well.
In addition to setting up the window displays, I was asked to clean the plinths under the paintings. Once they were clean, we placed the statues and the bowls back onto them, though we arranged the bowls in a slightly different pattern than before.
Bi-Me Coloured Glass Bowls, 2016
Hand Blown Glass
Thanks to my contribution, most of the hard work setting up the exhibition was finished and ready for September 3rd (date of exhibition). We accomplished so much in one day, and with just the two of us.
This was a great learning experience, and I have learned so much about setting up an art exhibition: displaying the art in a professional manner, putting away plinths, arranging the artwork in a consistent pattern, how to stack paintings against each other without scratching them, how to carry and hang the paintings and choosing the right spaces for each piece of art.
As I said earlier, I’ve done similar work for my London exhibition and my studio exhibitions, but this was the first time I’ve helped set up a major art show for a well-known art gallery. I really enjoyed putting the art up, even though it was gruelling work, and I did get rather annoyed at times. Still, when setting up an art exhibition, you must ensure that everything is perfect. Presentation is an important aspect of fine art, and it is something I know all too well from my studio work.
If I had one regret, it was forgetting to ask Sarah if I could volunteer again the next time she needs help setting up an exhibition.
Overall, it was a great experience.