African Americans and the American Scene: Behind-the-Scenes

By Dalila Scruggs, Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts

The official opening reception for my exhibition African Americans and the American Scene, 1929-1945 is today!

After several months of research, writing, and planning, my co-curator Sandra Burton and I finally installed our exhibition African Americans and the American Scene, 1929-1945 over the course of one hectic week. On Monday the galleries were empty—“fresh, with no mistakes in them” (as Anne of Green Gables might say). And by Friday night, all the art was hung on the walls, labels were printed, and the gallery lighting set. It was so thrilling to see our ideas become tangible: arguments on a piece of paper became spatial relationships between framed pieces of artwork. Over the course of the week, I took photographs documenting the installation progress. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the process of installing an art exhibition.

Empty Aaron GalleryThe exhibition spans two galleries. Here is the Aaron Gallery, still empty on the first day of installation. The ultimate design of gallery was developed collaboratively with the input of Hideyo Okamura, Manager of Exhibition Design and Planning.

Layout in progressThe installation process begins with layout. The museum’s fantastic art preparators Richard Miller and Greg Smith bring all the art for the exhibition out of storage. With their help, I began to make decisions about where each piece of art should be situated in the gallery. You can see some of the artworks leaning against the wall in the approximate location where I’d like them to be hung on the wall.

Art hanging beginsOnce I’ve decided exactly where each piece should be situated, the preparators begin to hang them on the wall. As professional artists, in addition to museum professionals, they have a fantastic eye for design. Even as I was placing artwork around the room, I could always ask their advice about layout.

Rigging electronics and setting lightsHere’s Richard using a ladder and electronic lift to access the electrical wiring and lighting system. He’s the one who makes the art look good by making sure that the light shines on the work at just the right angle.

Applying vinyl textFinally on Friday night, we could begin to put the finishing touches on the exhibition. Here, Richard is applying vinyl lettering to a wall. This was the introductory text that welcomes visitors into the galleries.

8 pm Friday NightI’m looking a little bedraggled at this point! It’s 8 pm on a Friday night and we’ve received word that a big snow storm is underway. But, we can also see the light at the end tunnel.

Ahh finishedAhhh! Finished.

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