Art & Archives, Behind the Scenes, Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

The Thrills (and Terrors) of Installing an Exhibition

Installing Leonardo and the Art of Sculpture

Wednesday, March 17, 9:50 a.m. That’s it. I’ve just walked the last courier to the South Gate shuttle point and said good-bye, and am going back to the museum. There’s a delicious smell coming from the wisteria, and the sky is wonderfully blue. The last piece to be installed in the exhibition Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention is now on its pedestal and under its vitrine. In a way, it’s a relief! Everything went well, smoothly.

There are such stressful moments during an installation—I’m scared that a huge bronze statue will fall on one of our team or a delicate part of a terracotta sculpture will break when we move it. When it’s all done, I can finally breathe again: all the works of art are safe in their new home.

But the end of installation also means the end of many magical moments. On the first day of installation, you have nothing but huge and small crates in the galleries, along with all the tools needed to unpack them. Day by day, bit by bit, the space changes with the works of art we install.

Opening a crate—can anyone imagine what privilege it is? Just think of a child’s excitement in front of a wrapped gift. For this show, the gifts are drawings by Leonardo, a full-scale marble statue by Donatello, a delicate scene in silver by Verrocchio, a ton-heavy bronze statue by Rustici. Depending on how the piece is packed, it can be like peeling an onion—the difference is that under the layers, you discover a masterpiece!

And sometimes you can’t help thinking that those masterpieces are making fun of you. The Donatello marble statue, for instance! We worked for three days to build its mounts, and it took one day to install it on its pedestal, but still, he would keep his thoughtful face, would not move his hand from his beard. He couldn’t care less about all the guys trying to make him slip with delicacy onto his pedestal. Well, of course not! He’s used to being in such a high niche on the Florence bell tower that he can’t understand why we spent so much time putting him on a low pedestal!

Well, we forgive him. And to tell you the truth, we made fun of him, too: when we uncrated him, we all laughed at the small hat made of crumpled papers that the preparators in Italy had created to prevent friction with the crate during shipment.

Now I just wonder whether our visitors will be thrilled by these masterpieces as I am. Over the next weeks, I’ll enjoy going incognito in the galleries to observe their reactions.

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One Comment

  1. Ellen South
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I really like this new Blog and this account of a curator’s job… even though our jobs are different I could identify with being a Getty employee who gets to acknowlege during the work day “the delicious smell coming from the wisteria and the sky is wonderfully blue”.

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      Clocking in at a giant 400 square feet, this tapestry, Triumph of Bacchus, teems with tiny details and hidden narratives.

      Here are just three:

      • At bottom center, Bacchus poses on the world’s largest wine fountain.
      • To the left, a sad, Eeyore-like donkey waits for satyrs and men to unload grapes from his back.
      • To the right, a rowdy monkey rides a camel that carries wooden barrels—presumably to be filled with wine.

      The tapestry is one of the highlights of the exhibition Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV. (L.A. folks: final weekend!)

      More on The Iris: A Tour of the Triumph of Bacchus

      Triumph of Bacchus (overall view and details), about 1560, design by Giovanni da Udine under the supervision of Raphael; woven at the workshop of Frans Geubels, Brussels. Wool, silk, and gilt metal-wrapped thread. Courtesy of Le Mobilier National. Image © Le Mobilier National. Photo by Lawrence Perquis


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