Curation Museums

Brittany Gilcrease, The San Antonio Museum of Art

The San Antonio Museum of Art was once a brewery and is a beautiful place for art. There are huge open halls and large windows which give the museum a sense of grandeur. It is easy, however, to get lost without the aid of a map. The collections obtained over the years are beautifully displayed. My favorite place in the museum is the entrance to the Latin American Arts section. There is a floor-to-ceiling window, which must be at least twenty feet high. Outside is a beautifully preserved Spanish archway rescued from demolition at a house in San Antonio. Other than the occasional school group, the museum is a very peaceful and calming place, one in which I was so pleased to work.

I worked in the Latin American Arts department under the direction of Mrs. Nancy Fullerton. I was able to gain experience in many aspects of museum work. I learned how to write condition reports, how to send artifacts to another museum, how to properly handle and photograph artifacts, how to properly install and remove exhibits, and how to categorize new objects such as the Taino collection.

The first project I worked on was the loan to the Reading Pennsylvania Museum. The curator in Pennsylvania wanted artifacts of Mexican-American origin to bring in the widely growing Mexican-American population. It was my job to write condition reports on several of the objects that were being sent. In some cases, this can take a long time due to the amount of damage, or how large the object is. My favorite objects to work on were the masks. There were all different kinds, from all different places in Mexico. Objects from all aspects of life were sent, from toys to Dia de Los Muertos figures. This
loan was important to both museums. The San Antonio Museum of Art was able to show the wide variety of artifacts owned and was able to get its name out as a prominent museum. The Reading Museum will gain a wider range of visitors which will allow more exposure for the museum.

A good example of all of these things put into practice is the Taino collection. These artifacts were given to the museum as a gift and needed to be properly categorized, labeled, and photographed. Before any of this could be done, I had to do research on the artifacts in order to place them in correct categories. The research took longer than expected, but I gained a greater appreciation for the Taino culture. It took at least two weeks to place the artifacts into categories and write record sheets for all 139 objects. It is hard to convey just how exciting it was to learn about a new culture, and to make correlations between artifacts about which I would not have known. This collection has been my sole responsibility, so I wanted it to be as precise and correct as possible. The photography took the longest amount of time. Each artifact must be photographed with and without an accession number. Since the artifacts are not yet the sole property of the museum’s, I was able to place some of the artifacts into groups. It is very tedious and time consuming work. Many of the artifacts are no bigger than one-sixteenth of an inch, so one can imagine the patience needed to set them up in display in order to take a photograph. However, no matter how tedious or time consuming, this was by far my favorite task. One day I may even write about this culture in a graduate thesis, but only time will tell.

I also think it is important to describe the experience I had in installing the Viva San Antonio exhibit. This exhibit, which is on display in the Golden Gallery, showcases
images of the Patron Saint San Antonio from the museum’s permanent collection. The exhibit consists of paintings, statuary, jewelry, and retablos. The first thing that must be done is to decide what artifacts will be used and in which gallery. Next, the curator must discuss with the construction team how the artifacts need to be displayed. Once the cases are built, the plexi-glass must be thoroughly cleaned. The artifacts that will rest on shelves or pedestals must be placed on top of a clear plastic sheet to protect the base of the artifact. As for the paintings, they must be hung according to the type of structure on the back of the painting itself. Many of the paintings are hung by a thin wire extending from the top corners. The paintings that are on tin plates must be displayed in a different manner. The pictures are laid out on the display board. An installation person will place four dots in pencil, two above and two below the painting, right on the edge. Next, metal nails will be pushed into these dots and bent over to form an “L” shape. The painting will hang within these four brackets.

Curation can be defined as the process of identification and organization of artworks or museum objects in a collection to further knowledge. I feel that curation relates directly to anthropology in the fact that a curator must take into account the context of the artifacts and the viewers. A curator must be careful in how they choose what will be viewed and what will not. But how can a curator respect everyone’s differing opinions and cultural background? This is a delicate, almost difficult situation. With the political correctness in place today, a curator must “watch his or her back” at all times. They must take into account how a person will react. Not all art is going to be straightforward with one explanation. There are reasons as to why the artist chose certain materials and subject matter. The curator must be able to give an accurate account of what the artist intended whether or not it will be politically correct. The curator walks a fine line because they cannot predict the reaction of the viewer only guide it in a certain direction. An anthropologist walks the same fine line. When they write an article or publish a book, their words are going to influence the reader. They must be careful that their depiction of a group of people is not full of stereotypes. The fields of anthropology and curation seem to go hand in hand. It is important for both to look at another culture from the inside out not just from their outside perspective.

I was extremely excited going into this internship. I could not wait to see what I was going to learn. This internship definitely lived up to my expectations. The first day that I walked into the storage room I could into contain myself. There were artifacts everywhere. I was immediately aware that if I broke something that I would pay for it, a lot. I was also very fortunate to have a wonderful boss who encouraged me in my work and who was willing to answer all of my questions, as I had many as the internship went along.

About the author

The Internship Coordinator

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