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How to hang a gallery without a hammer

How to hang a gallery without a hammer

January 12, 2016 // by MOCA Staff

We don't need nails or levels or even physical artworks to install an exhibition. We hang every one of our galleries this way, and our guests are none the wiser. How is this possible? Just as technology has crept into every facet of our lives, benefiting us in ways we never knew, it has also transformed the way we plan exhibitions at MOCA Jacksonville.

As the preparator at MOCA Jacksonville, I help design the layouts of all of our upcoming exhibitions. I use a very simple and effective 3-D modeling program called Google SketchUp to digitally recreate the gallery space and every single piece we consider for an exhibition. Google offers a free “hobbyist” version on its website for those who might be interested in trying it.

Sketch Up Southern Exposure 2
Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.

Although the program is simple to use, the creation of a digital exhibition is a multistep process that begins with the gallery space. This, in a way, becomes our blank canvas on which to present the art, artists, and ideas that we bring to you. After hours of work in the physical space with a sketchpad and tape measure, I am finally ready to flesh out the gallery in the digital space. Every little detail becomes important: outlet locations for power, the width and height of the walls, ceiling heights, stairwell locations, floor space, and the location of that random pipe on the wall of the third floor. The model must be as accurate as possible, or I will end up with some major problems once I bring in the art.

Sketch Up Southern Exposure 3
Image courtesy of Jonathan Duck.
MOCA Jacksonville Southern Exposure Installation
Image courtesy of Doug Eng.

After the blank gallery is modeled, I digitally recreate all of the art we think will end up in the exhibition. I receive a prospective checklist from Assistant Curator of Exhibitions Jaime DeSimone. That document tells me the dimensions of all of the pieces she has pulled together. Jaime shares some basic guidelines for her vision and possible groupings of artworks she has already considered. She also provides an image of each piece, which is displayed in the digital rendering so we know which block represents which piece. I place all of these digital artworks into the gallery following the same rules I use when hanging art in the real world. I give the arrangement my best shot and send that version back to Jaime and MOCA Director and Chief Curator Marcelle Polednik. (These sketches of Southern Exposure: Portraits of a Changing Landscape are pulled from SketchUp via photographic rendering software.) Then we decide what tweaks we can make, such as substituting works of art, cutting some works entirely, or simply rearranging objects. We go through many iterations before we come to the final design.

In this way, each exhibition is hung and rehung many times before the artwork ever arrives at MOCA Jacksonville. Before our guests have even heard about an exhibition, I have the privilege to build what they will see on opening day. And I do it all without any hammers.




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