photo: Judy Ferrara
Photo Credit: Tracy Raphaelson





August 2005

"Nice job, Judy"

"Thanks. It's all in the details."


Group Exhibitions: Some Advice


Dear Reader,

As I prepared to write about planning and hanging a group art exhibition, it became clear that this could develop into a chapter-length entry, and that the greater challenge would be in limiting myself to the usual two pages.

Imagine you are the exhibitions coordinator of an arts organization. You stand there at the reception, talking with the cousin of one of the artists whose artwork is on the wall. You control the urge to reach behind her and straighten a painting ever so slightly. You are in your double zone of awareness: making easy conversation and surveying the exhibit.

It's All in the Details

Let's back up in time. A gallery owner/director has seen samples of artwork, made a commitment, likes the theme, and you are preparing for a meeting. You have a venue, and the ball is rolling.

  • Ask for gallery specifications prior to your meeting. Commission policy, reception requirements, publicity guidelines, postcards and postage guidelines, insurance provisions, theme suggestions, exhibition length, and install/deinstall responsibilities should be spelled out. These issues are covered in the gallery's preliminary paperwork, and they are generally non-negotiable. If is sounds like a contract, that's because it will be. You will also need much of this information to help you compose your call to artists for entries.

  • If there are information gaps in the gallery specifications, develop a list of questions to bring to the meeting. Take careful notes. After any and all meetings, send a follow-up letter/email message detailing exactly what was agreed upon. Make hard copies of all email messages. Be prepared for a ton of paper to accumulate.

  • Develop a time line for yourself and the gallery representative. Include deadlines for gathering and selecting the artwork, notifying artists, drop-off /pick-up site and dates/times, installing/reinstalling dates/times, reception details, press releases, program/price lists, and mailing exhibition announcements. Run the time line by the gallery representative and ask for suggestions and revisions.

  • Stick to the time line. It is your safety net.

  • If you are responsible for the press release, make sure that the gallery director sees it before you send it out.

  • If you are responsible for hanging the exhibit, your preparation goes beyond making sure that you have artwork, proper tools, wall labels and the program/price list. Ask for help. I was fortunate to have Linda Whiting offer to help me and Linda Widstrand hang an exhibit last year. That day, Linda Whiting taught me several ways to think about placing the artwork to its best advantage.

  • Once you have all the art work and are ready to begin hanging paintings, here are some of Linda Whiting's suggestions :

A. Look at your largest areas. Place one of the biggest pieces in each area.
B. Landscapes look better side by side, instead of double hung; Still lifes,
XXfigurative and non-objective paintings can be double hung, if needed.
C. Try not to separate work by the same artist. Leave smaller spaces between a
XXsingle artist's work, then larger spaces between her and the next artist's work.
D. Figure out the flow of the space. Where do people start and end? End with big,
XXstrong pieces. Try not to peter out with small pieces dwindling out of sight.
E. Use the "5 foot rule" when hanging paintings. The middle of the painting
XXshould be about 5 feet from the floor.
F. Look at each area. If you hang works off center, it will create energy and
XXinterest; if you hang works symmetrically, you will inspire a peaceful feeling.
XXDecide which feeling you want to encourage in the viewer.

  • As you prepare for the opening day of your group exhibit, make a list of people who helped you along the way, including the gallery director. When the exhibit comes down, write thank you notes to each of them.

Judy's Journal will be one year old next month, so in keeping with my "process" roots, September's journal will be a reflection on my first year's journals. What will I notice? What have I learned? What will I do differently in the future? If you have comments or suggestions for future topics about the creative process, please contact me