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Dial-ing In: From Gallery Model to Model Gallery

I saw everything in miniature first. The model held the new exhibition in exact scale. Upstairs in Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial, our patrons were perusing the galleries but down here, in the IMA’s Design and Installation Department, I was towering over the same rooms’ diminutive sisters. I didn’t know a physical model was made of each exhibition before it was installed but not only do they exist—they’re painstakingly accurate. The walls, floors and tiny art pieces are all perfectly portioned effigies. It’s pretty adorable.

While examining the model I was guided by David Russick, the IMA’s Chief Designer. He’s one of the many people who put in countless hours to facilitate the connection between art and the viewer—a rigorous labor of love. It changes for each exhibition, but generally, the planning begins 12-14 months in advance. The model is necessary because the museum doesn’t use the same gallery layout over and over, far from it. “It’s like at the zoo,” explains Russick, “you know what animal you’re putting in the cage. You build the best environment for that animal.”

The gallery is completely redesigned; walls knocked down, moved, rebuilt and re-colored. My mother went through 27 color swatches before we finally painted our kitchen “French Pastry”–I couldn’t imagine what a gallery goes through. “Color is infinite; it could be the hardest thing we deal with,” explained Russick. All of the lighting changes as well. Dial’s work is largely 3-D, so it casts shadows on itself, a lighting director’s challenge/opportunity/nightmare. Every light’s type and position is represented on the model and they are painstakingly adjusted to best suit the works.

Miniature Art of Alabama

Some people are too afraid or disinterested to attend museums. They think, as Russick puts it, “Museums are for someone else.” Museum-non-goers could feel unwelcome. “But for years we’ve been saying, ‘Please come visit us! Just come one time—you won’t be intimidated.” And, as I now see, there’s a legion of people whose job is solely to make the museum as approachable and welcoming as possible. They do everything possible to display art the best it can be displayed. We want /need people to come and endless hours are put into making sure anyone would be glad they did. We can put on the best exhibition in the galaxy but, as Russick says, “If there is no one here to hear it, we don’t make a sound.”

Filed under: Design, Thornton Dial

6 Responses to “Dial-ing In: From Gallery Model to Model Gallery”

  • avatar
    Maureen Says:

    Excellent post. I think it helps to show that an exhibition does not just materialize out of thin air. Museum-goers don’t always appreciate the degree of planning, modeling, and laboring it takes to mount a show.

    It would be especially good to see this visualized via video or computer modeling. And added to the online exhibition page.

  • avatar
    Daniel Beyer Says:

    Another great post, Joe!

  • avatar
    Emily Says:

    I like the tiny pieces of art, too! I want to take mini-Art of Alabama home with me… or at least bring my dolls so they can see it.

  • avatar
    Fan Says:

    Great behind the scenes post! I like what Maureen said. IMA should expand this idea to show the public what really went into planning for this Exhibition step by step. It would be a hit, like Thornton Dial. Maybe make it available at the Museum only.

  • avatar
    Matt Says:

    Great to see Design and Installation get some shine on the blog! More! Always fascinating to see the planning and process behind the scenes.

  • avatar

    Quite impressive! Fascinating story. Thanks.

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