One afternoon last week, our photographer Sam Hodgson turned to me and said, “I’ll never look at a museum exhibit the same way.” Hodgson and VOSD blogger Dani Dodge have spent hours in the San Diego Museum of Art this month, taking us inside the process behind hanging works from British painters Thomas Gainsborough and Howard Hodgkin. The two painters were separated by more than 200 years, but curators put them together because “they are linked by luscious, juicy brushwork,” Dodge found out.

I’ve learned a lot from the series about how this behind-the-scenes process works. Here’s how we got from blank walls to the exhibition’s opening:

Jan. 6: Introduction: The museum’s new executive director agrees to let us glimpse the process of hanging the museum’s upcoming show, featuring two important British painters. This is the first time any of Gainsborough’s paintings will be shown at the San Diego museum, and it’s the first time Hodgkin’s work will be displayed on the West Coast.

Jan. 10: Prepare the Walls: ‘Everything from the configuration of the rooms, to the levels of the floor, to the colors of the walls is changing. Fast.

Jan. 14: ‘Weeding the Vinyl’: There are no paintings on the walls yet of the San Diego Museum of Art’s upcoming show. But the gallery’s not quiet. Workers complete painstaking work like translating show materials and peeling vinyl sheets off of individual letters that will be stuck to the walls to explain the show.

Jan. 21: How High to Hang?: After more than two years of planning, the Gainsborough paintings arrive at the museum. “You imagine what it will look like, but it is always different when works are there in the flesh,” says a curator.

Jan. 26: A Little to the Left After Gainsborough’s paintings go up without a hitch, Hodgkin’s representatives work with museum workers to figure out which painting should go where. Two complications, according to museum officials: “First, hanging a living artist is always subject to change, because the artist often has a strong opinion about how the show looks.” And the museum bought one of Hodgkin’s paintings and added it to the show, so it has to be placed somewhere. The process goes on for an extra day, but no one seems “the least bit flustered.” Hodgkin himself shows up to check out the exhibit’s progress.

Jan. 28: A Sneak Peek: Although the official opening of a new San Diego Museum of Art exhibit is Jan. 29, a few people — big donors, museum members, lenders of artworks in the exhibition and friends of the artist — get to see it a couple of days early.

The show officially opened to the public on Saturday.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. You can contact me directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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