At the ARCS Social: Conversations on Art Handling

August 29, 2016

In late July, UOVO had the pleasure of sponsoring an Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists (ARCS) Social, in conjunction with Dorit Straus’ “Art Hudson / Farm to Frame” initiative that aims to connect local artists with a broader audience over farm-to-table meals.

The event took place at the ReInstitute, a 2,000 square foot exhibition space run by artist Henry Klimowicz, situated in the hay loft of a 1960s barn in Millerton, New York.

Chris Wise from UOVO moderated a discussion with artists Henry Klimowicz, Michael Davidson, Joshua Rosenblatt and Gregory Klassen, focused on how the artists’ work as art handlers and preparators has impacted their practice. What follows is an excerpt of the conversation and some great behind-the-scenes stories of getting up close and personal with art.

Chris Wise: It’s great to have a space and forum for members across the museum community to participate in a dialogue in the ideas behind art and to form a relationship with artists. It’s good to remember the reasons why we all got into this business. We as a company are very interested in dialogues about how to best preserve artwork, and why it’s important, and how artists think about these issues – to be a facilitator in this kind of conversation is the reason we were excited to sponsor this event.

We thought about the implications of having professional art handlers as makers – we think about this question a lot internally as so many of our staff are artists. So we’d like to pose a question to each of you: as a person who works with objects in a very precise way through installation and handling, to what extent has your experience in the industry influenced your practice? As an artist, how does it manifest in your work?

Henry Klimowicz: As as an art handler, I am always thinking about the ease for myself in installing a work and someone down the road who will have to deal with this – I try not to make things that are impossible to care for. I respect people who come in and think this way. I just installed a 14,000 pound ceramics show upstairs at the ReInstitute by ceramicist Paul Chaleff who came with a deep understanding of the logistics of his work – we are all better off for that knowledge. I needed him there, because he knew how to do it – he designed the brackets that fit onto the wall because he wanted it to be done well.

Michael Davidson: There’s two ways that art handling has affected me as an artist. One is technical. The other way art handling has affected me is in a very romantic connection to objects – the stories I get to tell of the opportunities I’ve had to hold things in my hands. It still gives me goosebumps, the experiences I’ve had of handling these great objects, and the poetry of objects has probably affected me more so as an artist than the technical aspects. Moving a slab of Joseph Beuys’ fat – moving that crate as guards protected us from crowds that could bump that crate, holding that crate above the seat of the taxi all the way to the Guggenheim warehouse and putting it on the rack – like that last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark – knowing that it’s a slab of rancid fat with a fork and a knife in it.
One of my favorite stories of being an art handler – we were doing a show at the Guggenheim with Bob [Robert] Morris, Rosalind Krauss was the curator and we had sterilized the floor, we had Bob and the art handlers there and we got the crate and in the crate was a bunch of felt, and it was one of the random pieces. Bob bends over and the felt is just flying through the air and landing in this heap and I’m like oh my god, it’s 1965 and I get to see this amazing re-creation of a moment that redefined what contemporary sculpture was. That to me was such a special moment – but especially the moment after, when Rosalind Krauss took a photo of the piece as it was originally installed, and instructed her assistant to rearrange what Bob Morris had just done. And my response was “wow – what in the world?”. And he walked by and he grinned – and he said “you don’t get it yet – it doesn’t matter.” Which was the whole meaning of the work.

I teach and I tell my students that art gives history a place to live and that history is why my pieces are in place. My art handling affected my work not in a technical way but in the meaningful poignancy of the life of these objects.

Joshua Rosenblatt: [As a handler] you see art in a different way than you would anywhere else. As many of you know working with museums, I walk through the galleries [of the Whitney Museum of American Art] every single morning, so if a show is up I see it 90 times. There’s no other place where you can have that experience. I am in love with almost every show. Even if I can’t stand it at one point, after seeing it every day there are things I can always engage with.

MD: Artists never make things at the pace the viewer normally sees them. The viewer sees something for a half hour at the absolute most, when artists spend months on it. You get so much closer to their experience.

JR: As a handler, it’s almost like you’re living with work – it’s quite unusual.

For more photos of this ARCS event, please click here.

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