Today my wife Dawn and I helped in the early stages of hanging the Blogger Show at Agni Gallery. We got the kids off to school and drove through Manhattan over to Brooklyn to Stephanie's place, carried about forty boxes down from her fourth-floor apartment, loaded them into our minivan and her SUV, then carted it all back to Manhattan to the gallery. During this trip I learned that a) I should always, always, always bring clear directions, even if I've been there more than once before and think I know where I'm going, because driving aimlessly around Red Hook (the completely incorrect area of Brooklyn) while thinking I know where I am isn't a good use of time; and b) that E. Houston Street splits to become Houston Street and E. 2nd Street, which, amazingly enough, was exactly where we needed to be. As a lifelong resident of New York City and environs you'd think I'd know this already, but I'm pretty much entirely ignorant below 14th Street until you get to the Staten Island Ferry.
At the gallery we were met by John Morris and Agni Zotis, John being the driving force behind the show and Agni being kind enough to loan us her space for it. Agni finished moving her stuff around while we unloaded everything.
We were worried that, considering this is a small works show, the boxes seemed awfully big. We hoped they were simply over-packed, which mostly they were. After we'd cleared away some space we began taking boxes apart.
"It's like Christmas!" Stephanie enthused, although it was only like Christmas if instead of really cool toys when you opened your gifts you got incomprehensible, obtuse objects. Which, come to think of it, is just like my Christmas in those years when no one could figure out what to get me.
Lucky for us only one artwork arrived with slivers of glass in the box. Note to any artist sending framed works through the mail: Use Plexiglas. The artwork wasn't harmed but figuring out what to do with the glass pieces was entertaining, since the gallery doesn't have much of a trash can. (I ended up taking them home with me.)
While we were unpacking, Libby Rosof and Roberta Fallon arrived to deliver their pieces. Shortly after that some guy started filming us from outside the door, then came in to greetings from John. The cameraman turned out to be James Kalm. With the camera rolling he asked me and Stephanie for a quote regarding Charlie Finch, which we gave; James found our statements unexciting and noninflammatory, which seemed to disappoint him, but he stayed to help unpack boxes and reframe the work from the glass debacle while he told us many, many times that he'd been at this for 25 years.
While unpacking I found out something curious. I didn't check the names on the boxes before I began, but every time I was impressed with a good packing job, the piece turned out to be from someone I knew, liked, and respected. Every time the packing job was bizarre, confusing, or just covered with a ton of pointless tape, I had no idea who the artist was -- I hadn't met them, don't read their blog, have no contact with them. So for example I opened this one box from which the painting slid effortlessly and flawlessly, and I exclaimed, "Now this is some great packing!" only to find, as I removed the bubble wrap, that it was from Nancy Baker.
And now to let you in on a little secret. The absolute best part of helping to hang an art show:
YOU GET TO TOUCH THE ART.
This is so awesome I can't even express it. Dawn had laid a box on the table and called to me, "Hey, isn't this some guy you know?"
"Who is it?"
J.T. Kirkland, Woven, 2005, aromatic cedar, 9.25x13.25x1.5 inches
"I'm holding a J.T. Kirkland piece," I said, amazed. I brought it close to my nose to smell it. Aromatic cedar. "Smell this." I held it out to Stephanie.
She closed her eyes and leaned forward to take a large breath. "Reminds me of my gerbil," she said dreamily.
I held it out to Dawn. "Smell this."
"Come on, smell it."
"Fine," she surrendered, and gave it a perfunctory sniff.
Dawn, as she never tires of telling me, is not an art person.
"I smelled a Pollock once," added James.
"That sounds cool. What'd it smell like?"
A little while later I was opening another well-packed box, following the directions carefully written on the sides, and as I removed the painting from its protective wrapping I saw...it was Tracy Helgeson's. The very first painting I'd ever seen by her -- I'd only seen JPEGs before. And here I was holding it in my hands.
Tracy Helgeson, Out in Front, 2007, oil on panel, 16x20 inches
And I got to hold it. Move it around. Bring it close and then hold it away. What a privilege! What a rare gift!
Nancy Baker, Backstroke, 2007, oil on wood panel, 15x25 inches
Steven LaRose, 09/24/07 a, 2007, vinyl acrylic on wood panel
Once we had everything out, we began to lay them out leaning against the walls, whereupon Stephanie began to work her magic, which mostly seemed to involve pacing back and forth and muttering. Dawn and I found we had nothing much to do while John kept up a steady patter of what can only be described as Johnspeak, seemingly random musings between long stretches of almost inaudible humming. Stephanie finally began putting things on the wall in a preliminary way and John and I applied ourselves to figuring out how to mount some of the pieces; most notably two unframed works on paper. Ordinarily these kinds of things are pinned to the wall -- one even had pinholes in it -- but the walls of this gallery are made of some rock-hard plaster into which pins cannot be pushed. Our final solution -- which John suggested -- was to drill 1/16-inch holes and put archival cloth tape over them, then pin through the tape. This seemed to work very well, although I had to operate the drill (which was mine) because apparently John is under orders from Susan Constanse not to touch power tools.
Everything seemed well under control when Dawn and I left -- kids, you know, they get out of school eventually. I'm expecting the opening on Saturday night to be a lot of fun.