In honor of the 100th anniversary of American artist Romare Bearden’s birth, the Nasher Museum has organized an installation as part of “Romare Bearden: 20th Century American Master,” a nationwide project spearheaded by the Bearden Foundation. Consisting of an assortment of prints and paintings by Bearden and his contemporaries from both the permanent collection and loans from private collectors, the Nasher Museum’s show truly celebrates Bearden’s career, as well as his modernist and African American cultural influences.
How do you physically put together a show? As a new intern in the curatorial department I had no clue before being enlisted to help with this exhibition. But I quickly realized there is a lot more to designing the layout of an exhibit than meets the eye. There are so many things you must consider, such as object size, medium, color, subject and composition. If there is a piece that you want to be the focal point of the exhibition, how do you properly showcase it? And if there are pieces that seem very different from others in the show, how do you include them in such a way that they harmonize with and enhance other pieces, rather than stand out in a bad way? It can be dizzying just thinking about all these things.
Luckily there are some tools curators and preparators use to make the process a little easier. For instance, I was fascinated to learn that there exists a computer software curators use to help visualize and move around works in a show before they even touch the physical pieces. Essentially you have a map of the gallery space and photos of each piece in the exhibit. So you can move around each piece until you find a layout that you think will work in reality. Getting to use this software was very fun for me; it contributed to my growing notion that working in an art museum is truly a pleasure and doesn’t really feel like work at all.
Working on the Nasher Museum’s installment of “Romare Bearden: 20th Century American Master” was an incredibly rewarding experience for me. For one, I felt privileged to have my creative input be weighed so seriously. I also felt that, through imagining how the various pieces in the exhibition could possibly fit together, I learned a great deal about Bearden’s work and his various inspirations. It is full of rich, vibrant colors, depictions of rural life in the south, and intriguing references to both Cubism and African American art and culture. So if you’re interested in exhibition design and layout, you should come to the Nasher Museum to see “Romare Bearden: 20th Century American Master,” running until June 3, and imagine how you would design this exhibition.