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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anatomy of an Art Exposition - Part 2

Last week, I brought you Sue Canterbury’s story of how she came to know Beauford’s work and decided to create the 2004-2005 one-show Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris. This week’s posting brings you many of the behind-the-scenes details of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) show.

ArtsMIA Web page for Beauford’s show

Les Amis: How much space was devoted to the show?

Sue Canterbury: It was originally intended for a smaller gallery but, as luck would have it, the large special exhibition galleries became available due to alterations in the museum’s exhibition schedule (about a year before the show) and Delaney became the main event at the MIA in the fall of 2004.

Les Amis: How was it decided which paintings would be included in the show?

Sue Canterbury: I'm the person who made the selection. While the "From New York to Paris" transition was the heart of the show, I felt it was necessary to “bookend” the works I had rediscovered between what had preceded and followed them so people would be able to witness the stylistic developments and transitions in Beauford’s art. With the early Paris works restored to his history, it no longer seemed as if one was dealing with two artists but with an artist whose late abstracted figurative works of New York were not that far removed from the early, fully abstract works that would follow once he was in Paris.

Les Amis: What is the process for requesting loans of paintings (and perhaps documents or other items) for a show?

Sue Canterbury: Loans generally need to be place at least a year out from a show. Sometimes the odd thing can be slipped in later, but as the catalogue has to be written and edited far in advance, loans need to be in place as soon as possible. Dealers (Michael Rosenfeld, Patrick Albano, etc.), as well as Sylvain Briet, were helpful in passing on loan requests to private collectors.

Les Amis: How were the persons who wrote essays for the catalog selected?

Sue Canterbury: Ann Gibson had already written about Beauford on a couple occasions. I liked her work and was interested in her covering the New York figurative years. I was interested in having Michael Plante cover the late Paris years. I wanted to cover Delaney's transitional works of 1953-1960 as that period was key to the inquiry I wanted to make. I wanted to involve Sylvain Briet on the project because he and Philippe had uncovered and amassed an incredible amount of information. After Philippe’s untimely death, Sylvain had continued to compile what I consider the most thorough chronology of Beauford's life, work, exhibition history, etc.

Les Amis: Who decided what would be on the cover of the catalog?

Sue Canterbury: I'm guilty! That's a detail of a very special painting. It is the painting that was given to the Institute by Jacques and Solange du Closel. Until proven otherwise, it is the first known fully abstract expressionist work from Paris. It is also one of three paintings he did on 'canvas' made from the raincoat that Billy and Irene Rose gave him before he sailed from New York. Unfortunately, I don't know where the other two are or even if they still exist.

ArtsMIA Catalog Cover

Les Amis: How is mounting a retrospective different than mounting a group exhibit?

Sue Canterbury: Well, it allows you to concentrate on one artist and one story. I should mention however, that Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris was not a retrospective. I didn't cover the Knoxville or Boston years. Again, my interest was in the lost works of early Paris. I just added New York at the front, and post-1960 works at the end to give people a clear picture of his stylistic development.

Les Amis: What, if anything, was different about mounting the Delaney one-man show compared to other expositions that you have worked on?

Sue Canterbury: Because Delaney died only in 1979, there were still many people present who had known him. It gave immediacy to the project that is generally lacking when working on art or artists or much earlier periods or centuries. Thus, I was hearing all about Delaney directly from individuals who had known him well and cared deeply for him. The project took me on quite the ride. In New York, I visited with the artist Paul Jenkins, who called up Al Hirschfeld and asked if he had time to meet me. There I was the next day discussing Beauford and the exhibition. Or, there’s the time I arrived in Paris on a courier trip and, in hopes of finding Sylvain Briet had attempted to contact him prior to leaving Minneapolis. I had left my contact info of where I would be in Paris not knowing if he would get the message. The day I arrived I received a call from Sylvain in my Paris hotel room, with him asking me if I could catch a train to Normandy the next day to come and meet him. And, off I went.

Les Amis: Who decided which partner museums the show would travel to?

Sue Canterbury: Complex. I called several museums that I felt might be interested and sent out exhibition proposals. Knoxville, as his hometown, seemed a no-brainer. Greenville County Museum in South Carolina, on the other hand, hadn't been in my plans but they wanted the show AND they had the fantastic Washington Square work that I wanted to borrow.  Philadelphia had a history with Beauford. He had been there and had painted portraits of individuals there. Of course, Richard Gibson was also from Philly. Additionally, Philadelphia is always keen to get good exhibitions and materials on African-American artists.

Les Amis: How was it decided how long the show would be exhibited at each museum?

Sue Canterbury: The duration of exhibitions is pretty standard. Most museums will run their shows on a 10- or 12-week schedule. Due to the recent economic downturn, however, some museums have been prolonging the length of their shows when possible.

Les Amis: Was there much need for collaboration among these museums regarding presentation of the works, etc., or were they simply packed up and shipped from one place to the next?

Sue Canterbury: There can be collaboration. It depends on the situation. Generally, label text copy (what you read on the label next to the painting), and didactic panel copy (a large panel of text that gives the visitor an overview of the works in that gallery) are provided as part of the rental contract in a traveling show and are sent to the next venue for each institution to produce according to their own practices or protocols. The venues generally try to follow the intellectual concept (respect for which is also part of the rental contract), but a hang also is heavily influenced by the space and architectural demands of each museum’s exhibition galleries.

The one thing that was consistent at all four venues was the special pedestal that housed the raincoat painting. It allowed people to look at the back of the work so they could see the double-stitched seam and the top-stitched pocket, etc.

Pedestal for raincoat painting
Display at Knoxville Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Sue Canterbury

Untitled (raincoat painting) by Beauford Delaney
(1954) Oil on raincoat fragment
Photo courtesy of Sue Canterbury

Untitled (raincoat painting - rear) by Beauford Delaney
(1954) Oil on raincoat fragment
Photo courtesy of Sue Canterbury

Les Amis: How was the show financed?

Sue Canterbury: While museums set budgets, they're always desperate for alternate funding sources. In my case, The MIA applied for grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Judith Rothschild Foundation. (The Rothschild Foundation stipulates that any artist project they fund depends on the artist having died after 1978. Beauford just made it...1979.)

Les Amis: Are expositions expected to make money for the institutions exhibiting them?

Sue Canterbury: That is a dream to which most museums aspire but rarely see fulfilled. Generally, exhibitions don't make a profit or even break even. An institution generally hopes simply to defray expenses with tickets at the door, etc. In this exhibition's case, the Luce and Rothschild grants took a big bite out the projected budget expenses. Also, the rental fees paid by each of the travel venues were very helpful.

Les Amis: Was Beauford’s show profitable?

Sue Canterbury: Ultimately not, in the financial sense. Minneapolis will never have the amazing number of visitors that one sees at the Orsay, the Met, or the National Gallery. Its numbers are thought good if they are in the range of 60,000. Anything above that is pretty outstanding. Delaney pulled in about 22,000 visitors. However, when I realized that 22,000 people paid to see a show about an artist they had never heard of before, I actually felt rather good about the final count. (I still have people comment to me about the Delaney exhibition having been their favorite—and they aren’t even aware thatI was the curator of the exhibition. That makes me feel good. Also, the exhibition was awarded best exhibition of the year by a local magazine.)

On another level, the exhibition built an important bridge to the local African-American community. On yet another, very meaningful level, we also received the raincoat painting as a gift from the Du Closel's in appreciation of our doing the show on Beauford. People love that painting and the story. Another measure of success, I should add, is that the catalogue sold out completely. It's out of print. I recall that Philadelphia had to ask for additional catalogues beyond the number allotted in their contract.

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