The Art of Hanging a Show

When I was a kid I was fascinated by the Cinderella story- especially the magical transformation of her humble mice and pumpkin into a regal carriage with entourage, and at the stroke of midnight all tumble back down again to their lowly state. Painters must be grown up kids who were seized by this notion. They spend their lives transforming the colored mud that we know as oil paint into exalted visions. Done right it's a heck of a good trick.

I was watching the staff at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA unpack my 50 paintings for their Friday opening of their Unbroken Thread: The Art of Philip Koch exhibition. In the photo above the man in the blue shirt with the upraised arm is Michael Preble, PFAC's Curator. I figure with that gesture he's either exclaiming in delight, scratching his head, or pulling his hair out in exasperation as he takes in another unwrapped painting. This is in one end of PFAC's cavernous Ferguson Gallery.

Here below is the other end of the big Ferguson Gallery, with PFAC's Janet Rash who runs their Education Program, looking on.

It struck me watching this seasoned crew setting up the show how much the operation resembled a painter in his or her studio composing a painting. Michael Preble began with an idea of grouping the paintings together based on the locale where they were painted. But then he decided to try out other arrangements for the show- grouping together pieces based on totally other kinds of relationships. It was a lot of moving things around, trying this way and that to see what felt best. Probably most museum visitors have never given this much thought, perhaps assuming the paintings are just hung up in a row in the order they've been hauled out of the delivery truck.

Preble's kind of trial and error method made me smile as it is so much like what I do as I work out the arrangement of the forms in one of my compostions.  I think to pull together anything as complex as an exhibition or even just a single oil painting you absolutely have to proceed along this indirect pathway. It's a lot like how a sailboat can sail against the direction of the wind by taking a zig-zag course tacking first one way and then the other to get where it needs to go. An exhibit, like a painting, has to be successful at juggling literally thousands of little visual clues into something that feels cohesive. It involves a lot of looking and requires being in touch with one's best intuitions.  Having seen some of PFAC's earlier exhibitions, I am confident I'm in good hands. 

Here below is the "youngest" painting that will be in the show, Banner, 40 x 30" finished just last weekend (thank the art gods for the new fast-drying alkyd painting medium). And to it's right is Red Whisper. oil on panel, 30 x 40". They're tentatively placed in the other large space at PFAC, the Halsey Gallery. 

And here below is another photo of the Halsey Gallery with the doorway (isn't that bluish natural light gorgeous!) leading down a long hallway gallery back to the main Ferguson Gallery. That's West from Monhegan at the left and Equinox at the right.

And at the far right of the photo below you can see that long connecting hallway. It is PFAC's Ascending Gallery- long and wide so it serves well as exhibition space. Concurrent with my Unbroken Thread  it will hold a companion show, Virginia Landscape- Works on Paper by eleven artists from the state. I know some of the artists who will be in the show including Frank Hobbs, with whom I've shown for years at Nichols Gallery in Virginia. Frank is an excellent painter who does an art blog I read regularly.

Here's the entrance to PFAC. 

Here below is the sign in the front entrance window announcing the museum is closed during the installation of the new exhibits. On it is reproduced on of my six foot wide oils Deer Isle.


While I was in town PFAC had arranged for me to be interviewed by Frances Ward, a writer for the Tidewater area monthly Veer about Unbroken Thread  and about my life as a painter. We talked for about 45 minutes and explored what it is about art, music, and dance that makes it a universal in every human society. She was a very thoughtful person and we enjoyed a lively back and forth. Her article is scheduled to appears in Veer's August 15 issue.


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