Behind the Scenes with Randy Salway

Several weeks ago, I interviewed DOMA Director Peter Blume and he shared his insights regarding museums with us. As I mentioned in that post, many people are necessary for a museum’s success, and much of the difficult work of operating a museum goes on behind the scenes.  This week, I talked with Randy Salway, DOMA’s exhibition designer and preparator, about maintaining and installing works within our collection.

Nicole Griffetts: Describe the path leading to your career in museums.

Randy Salway: As an art student at Ball State, much of my time outside of the studios was spent wandering around museum galleries and flipping through stacks of art-related books from the shelves of libraries.  I have always had a strong interest in viewing other artists’ work for inspiration as well as to discover new approaches to art-making that I can utilize in my own work.  While in college I also participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions, entered many local, regional and national juried exhibitions, and acted as curator for an exhibition of my contemporaries.  My employment throughout this time was at a local framing company where I assisted in the production of frames for the public and installed art in several businesses, hospitals and banks in the area.  These extra-curricular engagements with art, more so than any classroom setting, is where my initial interest in pursuing a museum career was born.

NG: What are your daily duties as designer and preparator?

RS: With the invaluable and extremely capable assistance from Joshua Vance (Graduate Assistant) and Reanna Miller (Assistant Preparator), we oversee all movement of art in and out of the storage and gallery spaces, track their locations in the database, develop and maintain the presentation of the galleries (labels, lights, exhibits, etc), unpack incoming loans and gifts, pack artwork for shipment to other institutions (museums, conservation laboratories, etc.), transport art (or act as courier while artwork is in transit), matte and frame two-dimensional art, order supplies for preparation and installation of exhibitions, etc.

NG: Briefly describe your process of planning or installing an exhibition.

RS: Once art has been selected for an exhibition it must first be made ready for installation, such as framing or adding appropriate mounts or hardware.  Then the artwork is placed in specific groupings for educational, aesthetic or curatorial purposes. Once arranged, the artwork is installed, appropriate lighting is added and text within the exhibit is placed (object labels, vinyl graphics, title graphics, and other didactic materials).

NG: What specific role do you have in the renovations?

RS: We are responsible for locating all works of art being considered for exhibition, moving them into temporary storage spaces and tracking location changes, building “mock-ups” of future cases and pedestals to present to contracted curatorial and design staff to further assist with the selection process, documenting these potential layouts of cases and pedestals with photography and written lists, ordering supplies needed for the reinstallation, and eventually bringing the museum’s galleries back to life.

All hands on deck! Randy and the staff, with the assistance of exhibition designer and consultant Charles Froom, have been making mock-ups of tentative displays to aid in the reinstallation process. Here, several individuals are assisting in that process.

NG: What is the most exciting part of being an exhibition designer and preparator?

RS: With generous donors sending artwork on a regular basis, it often feels like Christmas when opening packages.

I also enjoy having access to storage areas where I have an intimate look at parts of the collection that are often off view to the public due to conservation and/or preservation reasons.  Every opportunity to embark on a courier trip to a museum or city I have yet to visit is a major perk as well.

NG: What are you most looking forward to when the renovations are complete in 2013?

RS: Beyond the sense of accomplishment that will be felt, I am most looking forward to the additional gallery space to present more work to the public.

It will be a beautiful installation, and some of the art that has long been hidden in storage will be viewable in our galleries for the first time.

NG: What is your favorite work of art here at the David Owsley Museum of Art?

RS: Providing you with my favorite work of art at DOMA is very difficult.  I have a long list of favorites, and that list can easily change from one day to the next.  At the top of today’s list is probably the Mauricio Lasansky portrait of his son, Tomas.  I have always loved Lasansky’s prints, but a major factor in its taking first prize on today’s list is that we just opened it yesterday.  Regardless of how much I love past years’ Christmas gifts, the fresh batch of new gifts are typically the front-runners.

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes glimpses and insights with our staff members.

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