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I’ve always been interested in how a museum show is hung. How do curators decide to put a one painting beside another, how high to hang them, and what color to make the walls? And how the heck do the works get to San Diego in the first place?
San Diego Museum of Art Executive Director Roxana Velásquez agreed to let me take a rare — if not first-ever — glimpse behind the process of hanging the museum’s upcoming show, featuring the art of two British artists from different eras: Thomas Gainsborough and Howard Hodgkin.
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing the step-by-step process in this blog. The show opens on Jan. 29. This will be the first major visiting exhibit to open at the Museum since Velásquez was hired in September.
“These exhibitions were organized before my arrival but I was delighted they were coming here,” Velásquez said in a recent interview in her office. “Having together both British artists — Hodgkin, a much respected 20th century artist … together with one of the greatest 18th century artists, Gainsborough, is wonderful.”
Gainsborough lived from 1727 to 1788 and was a portrait and landscape painter. The exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art will feature 11 of his paintings of women who were considered modern in their time. This will be the first time any of Gainsborough’s paintings are exhibited at the museum.
Hodgkin is one of Great Britain’s most renowned painters of the later 20th Century, according to the museum website. His work is colorful and abstract. This will be his first show on the West Coast.
Although the Gainsborough show has opened in other locations, it could be hung very differently in San Diego. Velásquez said she considers how works are displayed to be one of the most fascinating things to do in a museum.
“How do we choose the colors, the lights?” she asked. “It has to do with what you want to say about these artists.”
Velásquez said she expect to be intimately involved in curating the show. One of the most important elements she will be looking for is harmony. And through all the technical matters of color and lighting and hanging and the script about how the show flows from one place to another all must “project why this show is relevant.”
Velásquez said that temporary exhibits are an excellent way to highlight the more than 16,000 works that the museum owns in its permanent collection. The temporary shows like this one bring in visitors and also invite comparisons to the museum’s collection.
“It allows us to share with the community what we have here,” she said. “People may not be aware of the jewels that are here.”
The particular grouping of Hodgkin paintings that make up this show originated at Modern Art Oxford in Great Britain, and will be coming to San Diego from their last exhibit in the Netherlands. The Gainsborough collection is traveling from the Cincinnati Art Museum.
The plan to have both shows at the San Diego Museum of Art has been in the works for two years now. Work by a contemporary video artist will also open on Jan. 29 at the museum and be tied in with the two exhibits of paintings.
Stay tuned to Guide from the Inside for more as the show hanging progresses.