by Candice Jansen
Charles Carroll often looks at artwork the wrong side up. He even smells certain paper works – sometimes. Unconventional works of art are all in a day’s work for the Nasher Museum’s Registrar. Charles and his team, Assistant Registrar, Kelly Woolbright and Digital Imaging Assistant, Lee Nisbet evaluate the condition of artworks that are either received at the Nasher Museum or lent out to other museums. This is a side to the life of art I never knew existed and learning about the inner workings of this unglamorous world was worthwhile experience as a new intern.
Meticulous record keeping is an understatement when you are responsible for more than 11,000 objects held in the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection. I would summarize the job of a Registrar as an occupation that lies somewhere between covert intelligence gathering and precarious artistic career arc biographer. Every piece has its own carefully preserved life story complete that form part of the work’s extensive background file that is archived in digital and hard copy form. Not to mention each piece is insured for a hefty sum!
Charles maintains that no matter what an individual artwork’s value, all pieces are treated equally. That’s why even being in the presence of these works requires strict protocol. Newbies to the museum like myself receive a long and important list of instructions that must be adhered to when handling objects, reminding us to “wear gloves, take your time, clean off any surface on which a work of art is placed, remove any jewelry, pull back very long hair, always cradle any object from below, and transport objects on rubber wheeled carts”.
As the memory of the organization, the Registrar works closely with the curatorial department. We know every exhibition each item has been featured in, where each object can be found and its condition. Always thinking three steps three steps ahead, Charles already has a file for the upcoming Archibald John Motley exhibition that opens at the Nasher Museum in 2014!
More than catching a glimpse of where the some magic happens at the Nasher Museum, I left my internship this semester inspired by the Registrar’s credo: “Date everything. Throw nothing away.”
Candice Jansen is a Master of Arts and Liberal Studies student from South Africa who interned with the Nasher’s curatorial department and helped out in the upcoming Light Sensitive exhibition that opens February 14, 2013.