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Mounting a world class exhibition

This week I promised to give details about the process the University Museum undertakes to mount an exhibition in its galleries.

The most recently installed show, Caryl Bryer Fallert Gentry: 40 Years of Color, Light & Motion, is the perfect exhibit to illustrate their process.

Meeting with Marti Funke, collections manager, and Rebecca Phillips, membership, events and communications coordinator helped illustrate the entire picture of what it takes the museum to fill their galleries with interesting and compelling shows.

According to Funke, artists sometimes send inquiries about showing in the museum and others are recommended to the museum. In the case of Gentry, Oxford resident Mary Lou Owens mentioned the world-renowned quilter to Funke three years ago. She had recently been to Paducah, Kentucky, and had toured Gentry’s Bryer Patch Studio. This led to Robert Saarnio, museum director, contacting Gentry and the rest they say is history.

However, it is not quite that simple.

The museum meets quarterly to discuss possible exhibits in the galleries at an exhibition planning meeting and they have many things to consider during these discussions.

Considerations include making sure they coordinate different types of work so they offer a diversity of art styles and work to their patrons. The museum staff also prefers shows to be at least 12 weeks long so they can engage the community, the K-12 calendar and the university schedule as well. This usually means they try to kick off the fall with a blockbuster show and present an equally strong show in the spring semester. This allows time to schedule artist lectures, develop educational programs and community events so our town can get the most out of each exhibit.

This attention to community engagement is what makes this museum so special and important.  Not only do the artist lectures bring in university students, staff and faculty but also many residents of the Oxford ranging from young professionals to retirees.

Family Activity Days, which are themed around the exhibits, reach families with young children who flock to the museum to learn about art.

Once a show is booked, the work is not over. The installation process is another part of the whole picture and Duncan Bass, preparator, helps Funke with the actual install of the exhibits. In the case of this current quilt show, the artist, Gentry shipped the quilts and most of the hanging rods to the museum. It was then hung according to a plan that Gentry laid out. Funke sent a floorplan of the galleries including space parameters and lighting locations so that Gentry could formulate her layout which she then sent with photos to help with the install. Many artists do not come for the actual installation process so Funke and Bass do the heavy lifting to realize the artists’ vision. It took them about a week to put up more than 50 quilts in this amazing world class exhibit which will close on April 16.

ANDI BEDSWORTH is owner of Art To Go, which brings free art opportunities to children in the community.