When we first met up as a group at the Hepworth, we went for a walk round the gallery, and ended up outside to look at the building as a whole as well as the exhibitions.
It’s a substantial presence.
On Tuesday we had a look round the behind-the-scenes of the gallery, with curator Sam Lackey.
What struck me was how much infrastructure goes into the preservation of knowledge.
Whether it’s the file system for preserving material from the old Wakefield civic art gallery,
or the system for using river water to regulate the temperature and humidity of the gallery spaces.
Bricks and mortar, and even printed paper, are good at protecting knowledge from being blown away in the wind.
A couple of things jumped out at me from what Sam was saying as we walked round.
The first was the process of making an exhibition happen: research; mapping what might be in the exhibition and looking for a new angle (with the help of printed photos of artworks stuck on the wall); little wooden models of the gallery to decide where things should go;
the admin of getting everything on loan from other places, especially verifying its provenance (which is an interesting word), including making sure a work isn’t one stolen by the Nazis; getting and installing works – we learned that you’re often not allowed to tilt big artworks to get them through small doors; preserving the works on display (ie the building temperature) while they are in the safe keeping of the gallery.
All those skills and processes are also an expertise or form of knowledge that bricks and mortar – though less so paper because it won’t be written down – protect from being blown away.
I wonder where else that expertise could go to be used outside a gallery, and where similar processes go on under a different name.
Another thing that struck me was about the amateur art historians, often retired people, who exhaustively research a topic. “They are making connections” Sam said, “but nobody knows what the connections are.”
And where do their outcomes go to? A self published book or a presentation to the gardening society was Sam’s guess.
Knowledge that is not protected by bricks and mortar, and blows away.