Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chinese Bronzes & Korean Ceramics

Whenever people ask me about my job and I tell them I'm the Curator of Art Properties at Columbia University, they inevitably ask me the most obvious question: "What do you do?", or the derivative, "What does that mean?" However, I enjoy most this question-phrased-as-a-statement that requires more thought: "Tell me what a typical day is like for you." The trouble with responding to that is there is no such thing as a "typical day" for me. Sometimes I'm dealing with loans (external exhibitions or on-campus displays). Other days I teach a class about a selection of artwork chosen by a professor. I sometimes meet with potential donors and then process their donations through a variety of channels. I'm frequently in meetings (a LOT of meetings) and dealing with email (a LOT of email) on more things than I can bother relaying. I try to do as much research on art objects in the collection for a variety of projects as I can. Preservation of art objects is also a regular concern. With a universal art collection such as ours, in 1 week I have been known to deal with a public monumental sculpture from 1967, a Dutch portrait from 1626, Polaroids by Andy Warhol, and ancient Chinese bronzes. One of the greatest parts of this job, however, is working directly with the objects themselves, and when I have time to be creative, arranging an installation of these objects can just turn out to make my day a laborious, but fun-filled one.

Today was just one of those days. This semester my department is working with Prof. Robert Harrist and 9 PhD students for a seminar entitled "Chinese Art at Columbia." I was the impetus behind this in that I first presented to him last semester the idea of having students study objects in the collection, especially the works from China on display in our gallery in Low Library. The installation in this room quite literally had not been touched in over 40 years, which means no one had ever done research on them since they were donated by Arthur M. Sackler (yes, that Sackler!) from the 1960s and 1970s. This graduate seminar has begun, and the students are doing their first assignment already, researching and writing about some of our bronze vessels from the Shang and Zhou dynasties (ca.1650-ca.250 BCE). Today, my staff and I moved about 100 objects out of the main gallery space, put most of them in storage, and then reinstalled the Shang and Zhou bronzes in display cases near the seminar room so the students have easier access to them. The photograph you see at the bottom is the new display we set up for the Shang dynasty ritual bronzes. We then did a temporary installation in the original gallery space, putting in 9 cases a selection of Korean ceramics that are also from the Sackler donation. The photograph above is what 3 of those display cases now look like. When the seminar is over, the research by the students will help us reenvision a new installation in the gallery for the Chinese art, with proper signage to educate people about the works, and make them all look better and more up-to-date with modern backdrops.

I confess that I'm extremely proud with how it all worked out today. The installation of the bronzes and ceramics in the cases all came out even better than I had hoped. It was a full day of work to get it all accomplished, and LGS and LV (my staff) did a wonderful job packing and moving everything back and forth between buildings, but it was definitely worth it. We're Art Properties. And we rock!


teddygood said...

Congratulations!!! What a great installation!!
Ted Goodman

Stephanie Race said...

Very cool! Congratulations! Happy to say I remember when you were doing displays in the lobby at USF. Actually found a picture of that recently.