When the Spring 2020 exhibitions could not go forward as planned due to COVID-19 closure, The Block Museum and its scheduled installation team found innovative new ways to make meaning together.
No exhibition installation period ever feels like standard procedure even in routine times. There are unique problems to solve and troubleshoot; plans that go wrong; artistic visions to support and execute; and there are always items that seem to be in danger of not arriving in time for the opening night celebration. Learning to work under pressure is a necessity. The Block is able to navigate every one of these typically, atypical installation experiences because of its dedicated team of talented art handlers, known as preparators, who we affectionately call “The Crew.” The individuals making up The Block Crew can change season-to-season based on availability and exhibition needs, but their essential role to our work remains constant.Like almost every art museum worldwide, we rely on this dedicated, behind-the-scenes group of creative problem-solvers to present our exhibitions.
Needless to say, the spring 2020 installation did not go as planned.
When the ripples of the current COVID-19 pandemic were starting to be felt in mid-March, it became clear that we would have to temporarily shutter the museum. Our spring exhibition could not be installed in a pandemic. How could we honor our commitments to our loyal Crew of temporary workers and enable them to also honor their commitments to us; commitments that had been made many months prior to the pandemic’s necessary shelter-in-place response? How might we engage The Crew with our galleries closed?
The Block knew that our Crew, as gig economy workers, would be especially impacted by the pandemic because they could not perform their work from home. We also recognized that these individuals, so important for what the public experiences in museums, are often invisible to visitors. How could the Block raise awareness of their contributions and also draw attention to the fact that so many preparators are artists who support their creative practices by working behind-the-scenes in museums?
As a response to these questions, The Block suggested The Crew create new work using their originally scheduled hours. The Block proposed documenting this new work on the museum’s website along with profiles and statements introducing The Crew to the public.
We are excited to share the creativity of The Block Museum preparatory Crew with you. This is also a special opportunity to learn first-hand how working with objects in museums impacts the creative process. We could not have wished for better collaborators as we entered into this first-of-its-kind endeavor. Our colleagues on The Crew not only embraced the unknown, but used this project to create inspiring, thoughtful projects; meeting the challenge of this moment with a spirit of inquiry, innovation, and generosity.
We conclude the project with a renewed gratitude for The Crew’s contributions to the mission of The Block and with deeper appreciation of their collective work in the museum and in their individual work as artists. We join with our colleagues across the museum field in anticipating the opportunity to return to the galleries and to continuing our work together.
– Dan Silverstein, Associate Director of Collections and Exhibition Management (June 2020)
View interviews and original work by the nine participating artists
Meet the Artists
“My installations and works on paper have always felt related and making them simultaneously during this project has shown me just how dynamic that relationship can be.”
“My work as a preparator has given me a lot of tools to be able to accomplish personal projects, and vice versa… My writing shares many of the theoretical concerns of the more physical work, specifically the visual cues and affective qualities that allow a space to tell a narrative.”
“For years I’ve thought about the linkages between my professional work in museums and my studio practice. I wanted to use this opportunity to expound on the crossover that occurs when I work within an art institution or in my studio.”
“I appreciate the time I’ve spent working closely with works in a wide range of mediums. As a practicing artist it is always interesting to see how others have constructed their work or treated their materials. It is helpful for me to remember that most pieces show their imperfections when you are up close.”
“Putting up a show is indeed a process that often requires creative problem solving, and invention. Hanging a show can be a very dynamic process that can lead to creative innovation that’s often transferable to other creative avenues, activities, and all aspects of life.”
“Being an artist influenced me to become a museum preparator because it affords me a unique opportunity to be working with inspiring and creative people. It also allows me to constantly acquire new skill sets through the variety of work we do.”
“Obviously working as a preparator has made me very knowledgable about installation procedures and exhibition design. I don’t think it’s influenced my art work as much as it’s influenced the way I approach designing exhibitions and installations, and methods of archiving work.”
“Being around the art, I’m always on the lookout for color schemes in particular and I’ll take a picture so I can steal it later for my work. In the current show the Marisol sculpture was just killing me with the two pinks, red, gold, black and yellow. Just being around some serious art, I never know what’s going to grab me but I just keep my eyes open.”
“In my work as a museum preparator I have been able to use skills that I developed in college. These include sculpting, welding, mold making, and casting. I’ve been interested in and making candles for 30+ years. Here are some studio photos and some of what I like to call my “candle altars.”