Behind the Scenes

On April 10, 2013 by Michelle Lepori

mich_rarwapril2mlmich_rarwapril3mlNestled into a canopy of trees and near a quiet running creek lies the unpretentious campus of American River College in Sacramento, California. It is one my favorite places, so conducive to the absorption of art practice and theory because the environment is calm and gentle. While the buildings are contemporary, it has none that electric-concrete-developed feel experienced at Santa Monica City College or Sacramento City College. To study art here should perhaps be a destination for creatives looking to be nurtured. “Behind the Scenes” is a free, public art lecture series offered by the college.  It is a discussion that takes off the white gloves and lets anyone come in to hear the real art of showing art.

Patrick Minor is the former preparator of the Crocker Art Museum. With 27 years of experience in a museum gallery, he has met, disassembled, designed and installed for artists whose names have surpassed mortality. He’s a playful guy who talks with great intimacy about his lifetime spent exalting artists at the Crocker. To hear him speak of Dale Chihuly, Christopher Brown, Robert Brady, Peter Vandenberge, Robert Bechtle, Mark Rothko, Richard Notkin, Ah Leon and Wayne Thiebaud with familiarity is to realize, this is the guy I want to talk to most. That is why this series is incredible, for the first hand gossip of pressure, secrets and relationships behind the scenes. We all know artists are the last minute types. Minor shared this Rita Brown quote perhaps for empathy or a summation of his experience, “A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.” Imagine having to pack still wet paintings for a Christopher Brown show that are worth between thirty and two hundred thousand dollars; or overhearing your curator screaming at an artist, to just send it in! That artist being the Dale Chihuly.

This is a job that puts you in touch with the artist and their creations that are priceless. They must be displayed perfectly, or else. During the Patrick Minor lecture I attended, he told a story. A fellow preparator had ignored Mark Rothko’s instructions, that no one should be able to view his large arbitrary paintings from farther than three feet. On opening night, a dissatisfied Rothko pulled every piece from the show.mich_Rarwapril1ml

“Are you scared yet?” Chihuly asked Minor during their first exhibit together. The pieces were sent over last minute, frozen in the back of a fish truck. He had to wait for the glass to defrost before assemblage with the instructions, “You nest these.” Well, he also suspended them from the ceiling with fiber monofilament. Changed the lighting directly above a display where one dropped lightbulb could shatter an entire exhibit. Since then, he has hung the heavy, delicate glass blown, world renowned creations of Chihuly several times with developed nerves of steel.

Beyond the inherent risk there is a rare humanity, in being allowed into an artist’s home or private studio. “Can I have one?” He asks, all of them, and has acquired an enviable collection. Deservedly so, because he has dedicated his life to making artworks as beautiful as they are designed to be. With careful selection of light, color and setting, he is a master.

In sharing his life work, I am inspired to rethink my positioning in the art world. Could being behind the scenes be more rewarding than under the spot light? It could provide a steady paycheck as well as the support of a constant creative network. Those are two concepts that individual artists don’t always receive. However, as a small female I don’t think gallery preparator is a job I am suited for. Artworks can be very heavy and to ship, unpack, install exhibit after exhibit, requires a manual labor skill set I am lacking.

That is why I excited to go to the next lecture offered in the, “Behind the Scenes” series. Jill Sterrett will speak on Tuesday, April 16. Much like Minor, she will be sharing the perspective of a life career devoted to artists. She is the director of collections and conservation at SFMOMA. As a female voice she will be offering a unique perspective and I hope to have my mind opened much like Minor did during his lecture. Thanks to American River College, the valuable information at these lectures will be free. See you there.


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