Blog / What is a preparator?

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By Dez Webb

The exhibition “Escultura Social: A New Generation of Art from Mexico City” closed recently, and the gallery is dark. Here at the Nasher Museum, the public is not allowed to watch the installation of the next exhibition, “Beyond Beauty: Photographs from the Duke University Special Collections Library,” which opens Thursday, July 2. But I can.

As a student intern, I was able to hang out for a while with Brad Johnson, the chief preparator, who oversees this challenging process along with preparators Alan Dippy, Harvey Craig and Patrick Krivacka. The job of a preparator is very interesting. They are art handlers and in charge of setting the galleries up and making them look nice. They take works of art down, put them into customized crates, set the new exhibitions up–and this is only the beginning. Johnson’s job is the design and layout of each exhibition as well as unpacking, installing, repacking, putting labels up, keeping the works secure and much more.

When asked if “Escultura Social” was a challenge to take down he said no. Krivacka is the wood shop manager, which means he builds the frames for the pictures and displays. All the preparators agreed that the existing “Escultura Social” layout will work for the “Beyond Beauty” exhibition because it is 99 percent photos. That will save money. They also agreed that “El Greco to Velazquez: Art during the reign of Phillip III” (on view last year) was the most challenging exhibition. It came with secret service, larger pieces and the FBI had to transport the works of art to the airport. Johnson estimated that “Beyond Beauty” would take three to four days to install, and then another two days for the details, such as the lighting, labels and security. It seems like a lot, but it’s all part of the job for these preparators.

Dez Webb is a marketing intern and a rising senior at North Carolina Central University.

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