Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gallery Palette: An Interview about Exhibition Wall Color

By Alexander Jarman, Public Programs Manager

The Museum has installed a lot of exhibitions in the past year and each one of them came with a fresh coat of paint.  Wall color is an important component of our gallery spaces- it has the power to enhance works of art or detract from them.  To learn a bit more about this matter, I asked the Museum’s own Andrew Marino and John Marciari (Museum Technician and European Curator respectively) as well as Joshua Rectenwald, the Painters Assistant at the Cincinnati Art Museum to share their insights about the colors we see in art museums. 
To start us off, what are some of your favorite or least favorite colors you have used in your museum?
JM:  My favorites are Raisin Torte in Gallery 17, Pumpkin Blush in Gallery 20 and Cork in Gallery 18 and 16. The color we used for the Picasso, MirĂ³, Calder exhibition reads as much more blue than I expected when looking at the samples.  It’s vital to pick colors under gallery lighting-there are HUGE variations when they’re seen in the fluorescent/incandescent lighting of the offices, for example.
AM: I know this seems like a cop out, but I think the colors we choose are all successful.  Color choices for exhibits endure a lengthy decision process before they are selected.  I trust this process.  Some colors sing with the art a little better than others, but that’s life.
How much does wall color affect an exhibition?
AM: Ideally, it shouldn’t affect it at all.  Practically, it helps support a sense of cohesion.  Exhibition wall colors can also help the viewer organize information and make connections.
JR: Wall color can have drastic affects on exhibitions.  In general, paint determines the overall mood of the gallery space.  Lighter colors present a more casual and lively environment while darker colors tend to create a more solemn and serious experience.  Color can also be used to break up different sections of an exhibit, thus clarifying and making it easier to navigate.
JM: I think the wall color affects an exhibition quite a bit…or more accurately, things like wall color and lighting affect people’s perception of an exhibition.  The pictures are the pictures, but I do think there are better and worse ways of seeing them. 
What else should we know about painting the walls of a Museum?
AM: Clean up sucks.  Paint buckets, brushes, rollers, various utensils, etc.  It’s not necessarily difficult work, just time consuming.
JR: My favorite part of the installation process is actually peeling and scraping all the vinyl off the wall.  It feels like I’m erasing the former exhibition. But if there was one thing I would say about paint colors it would be that no one sees eye to eye on them.  I get this all the time when I’m painting a gallery.  I’ll have people ask for the name of the paint and tell me that they really like the color, and then the other half I talk to think that the color choice looks terrible.  So I guess you can’t win.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

California Cool

Although it's right there in the lobby when you enter the museum, some of our visitors miss the rotating Collections in Context installation. The principal of the installation is simple: every few months we choose a newly acquired object—something that has entered the collection by gift or by purchase within the past six months—and we hang it alongside an object (or a group of objects) that has been at SDMA for a number of years. By offering a context in which to test visual relationships between new acquisitions and objects long-held by the Museum, Collections in Context presents the daily practice of museum work to visitors.
Last week, we reinstalled the latest installment, which focuses on the recently acquired Balls, #16, painted in 1964 by Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967).

Fischinger, who had fled his native Germany with the Nazi rise to power, settled in California in the late 1930s. He is best known as a filmmaker, and particularly for his pioneering works in an abstract, non-figurative mode. In Hollywood, he attracted the attention of Orson Welles and assisted with Walt Disney’s Fantasia. He nonetheless continued to have difficulties in finding an audience for non-figurative films, and during the last two decades of his life devoted himself to painting, pursuing the types of abstraction he employed previously in his films.

Fischinger's geometric paintings find many parallels in the work of other California-based artists of the time, among them Karl Stanley Benjamin. In 1959, Los Angeles Times art critic Jules Langsner coined the term “Hard-Edge Painting” to describe the work of these California painters. Partly a reaction against Abstract Expressionism, Hard-Edge Painting emphasized angular lines, reduced forms, precise surfaces, and rich colors.

In the current installation, we've paired Fischinger's painting with an untitled work by Karl Benjamin, which was painted in 1957 and acquired by the Museum of Art in 1958.

Finally, Colorforms in Colorspace #12, a painting of 1948 by John Sennhauser, rounds out the installation. Sennhauser was based in New York when he painted the canvas, but he later settled in Escondido, and this is one of a group of his works that came to the Museum of Art after his death.

In all, it's a miniature of exhibition of just three works, but one that really encapsulates the aesthetic of mid-century Modernism in California and beyond.