Making an exhibition happen: the nuts and bolts and who does what
This section is designed for aspiring museum professionals or students interested in the workings of a gallery.
In programming MGA’s exhibition program, the goal of championing photographic art forms, and inspiring audiences to embrace, explore and value photography is at the forefront of discussions. In seeking to achieve this, and as a leading public gallery devoted to the collection and exhibition of photography, we endeavour to engage local, national and international audiences in arts and cultural experiences.
As well as stepping through the process of bringing this exhibition to Australia, this section will also give insight into the various gallery roles within a public institution and a museum context from curator to an education coordinator. Click on the highlighted gallery positions to read more about each role.
An exhibition at MGA from the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), Bengaluru, was first considered as conversations developed between the MGA Gallery Director and delegates from MAP. This was in 2019 while MGA’s Gallery Director was visiting India for public programs associated with MGA’s travelling exhibition by Australian architectural photographer John Gollings.
The finer details and negotiation of the exhibition was then managed by the MGA Senior Curator.
Image: Museum of Art & Photography, architecture rendered view
Who is MAP?
MAP is the Museum of Art & Photography. Situated in the heart of Bengaluru, India, MAP’s building, due to be completed in 2022, will include art galleries, an auditorium, an art and research library, an education centre, a specialised research and conservation facility.
As South India’s first major private art museum, MAP aims to take art and culture to the heart of the community, making it accessible to diverse audiences, and to create a museum-going culture that encourages people to experience art and heritage in new ways.
Bringing an exhibition that traces the history of photography in India to Australian audiences offers significant opportunities for cross cultural understanding between the two institutions and their publics. MGA is thrilled to be the inaugural institution with which MAP is partnering to make their collection accessible to diverse audiences, who might access it in new ways.
The Exhibition Curator was Nathaniel Gaskell, a curator, writer and director of the MAP Academy, Bengaluru, and the former director of the Tasveer Gallery, India. He is the author of Photography in India: A visual history from the 1850s to the present (Prestel, 2018), and editor of several other books on photography in Asia, including William Dalrymple’s The historian’s eye (HarperCollins India), Derry Moore’s In the shadow of the Raj (Prestel, 2017) and Karan Kapoor’s Time & tide and Hikari: contemporary photography from Japan.
Image: Cover and page spreads of Photography in India: A visual history from the 1850s to the present (Prestel, 2018) by Nathaniel Gaskell and Diva Gujral.
From the concept and initial meeting to the final exhibition involves many steps.
Once the curatorial concept and artworks are settled on, and a checklist of works is finalised, a loan agreement is made between the two institutions, and logistics begin. The agreement is prepared by the MGA Senior Curator and MGA Exhibition Coordinator and covers each organisations responsibilities, sets out timelines and processes followed for the caretaking of the artworks during transit, preparation, installation, display and return. The agreement provides the framework for the artworks to enter into the country safely and legally. Contingency plans are also negotiated to manage budget considerations and alternate arrangements. In this case, these were particularly necessary as COVID-19 restrictions in both India and Australia were of key concern.
Image: Large custom built travelling crate with tube housing over-sized photographs.
Preparing the artworks
In India, the artworks are condition reported by a paper conserver from MAP, Bengaluru and carefully packed into two large crates. Particular care needs to be payed to the packing of artworks, for instance, the smaller photographs were interleaved with tissue or Mylar (inert and slightly rigid polyester that is made used to protect many forms of artwork, particularly photography) and the interleaved photographs were then placed in archival boxes and finally wrapped in plastic.
The travelling crate is then custom lined with foam to absorb the shock of any movement and to provide a more stable environment when the outside climate changes during the trip from Bengaluru to Melbourne. This extra layer also protects the works from damage during transit, which is when it is most vulnerable to damage. In this instance, large, unframed photographs were also interleaved with tissue paper and rolled in a tube that was suspended in a custom built crate.
Everything arrived safe and stable through the measures taken by MAP, Bengaluru. Once the exhibition arrived in Melbourne, MGA continued this delicate process of caring for the artworks in the exhibition.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) describes preventive conservation as trying ‘to create conditions to slow down the aging processes in an object as much as possible. This reduces the need for active or remedial conservation. Preventive conservation includes measures as climate control, lighting conditions, packing, registration, storage and risk management’.
Preventative conservation measures were maintained by keeping all the artworks in climate controlled conditions from the moment the crates were received at the gallery. The crates were carefully unpacked by the MGA Gallery Registrar, MGA Gallery Framer and MGA Exhibition Coordinator wearing nitrile gloves and checked against the prepared condition reports from MAP’s conserver. ‘Condition reporting’ the works after each major event (be it a journey, or an exhibition) is a way of ensuring that any change in the artwork is noted as soon as possible.
Images: MGA Gallery Framer 'condition reporting' works – looking closely through a magnifying glass and adding removable hinges to hold work in place under window mount.
The artworks that arrived in Melbourne were then framed by MGA for the exhibition.
Oversized works were to be displayed in custom built frames whereas the smaller works were mounted with custom-cut window mounts and put into existing stock frames. These were all prepared for exhibition by the MGA Gallery Framer using archival materials and reversible techniques so that the works can be returned in the same condition in which they arrived. This is another important aspect of art handling and conservation, we aim never to do anything to an artwork that cannot be reversed.
Images: Suresh Punjabi layout design document including floor plan, indicative wall colours and text placement and final installation view
Planning, exhibition design, education resources, promotion and events
Exhibition design and planning the layout is devised by the MGA Senior Curator and Exhibition Curator. In this instance, it required many emails and video calls between timezones, and the swapping of design files back and forth, and significant consultation with MGA’s external design partner, Pidgeon Ward.
The MGA Exhibition Coordinator is responsible for preparing the gallery space, coordinating signage and lighting for the exhibition. This includes coordinating paint and painters, ordering and coordinating installation of banners and signage around the gallery site, and coordinating the team of specialised art-handling installers who hang the work.
Media releases and gallery promotions are shared by MGA staff and scheduled to build audience awareness of the exhibition before the opening of the show.
Public programs, including talks, tours, activities and workshops are an important way of giving our audiences different modes of experiencing an exhibition. Events in the gallery and online are developed by the MGA Senior Curator and the MGA Education and Public Engagement Coordinator.