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Preparing, Upwards



NOW Mia Feuer: An Unkindness Installation from Corcoran Gallery of Art on Vimeo.

We took time to speak to someone with very little of it to spare: Brian Sentman, Chief Preparator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Along with Mia Feuer–the artist behind An Unkindness–and a team of curators, the registrar, and contractors, Brian was chiefly responsible for getting the show’s massive artwork into place. While a painting gets hung on the wall with wire and a mount, there are no instructions for ascending seven trees, steel mesh, aluminum and hundreds of feathers two and a half stories high into the rotunda of a 125 year-old historic building. Check out the short answer up above or the longer talk with Brian below:

You’re a preparator. What’s a preparator?

A museum technician, installer, museum specialist, art handler or preparator are all names for the same job. A person who’s tasked with planning and executing installations of various types of art. This includes finding out what infrastructure the show demands, designing the how-to’s of implementation, and then carrying out the installation of the show.  It requires knowledge of different types of artwork, building materials, manufacturing, rigging, and physics. Engineering comes into play, so I’ll make a plan, then get a contractor to sign off on how I see the installation happening–calculating weight, designing an armature grid to hold the work (in this case), then seeing actual weights.

Art is different than installing other types of things, a blue glove (nitrile fabric) or white glove (cotton, which we formerly used) situation in which the environment is more controlled.  Handling and installing art-work without damaging it or endangering it in anyway is critical. We work closely with the museum registrars and curators to ensure art is handled in a safe manner.


What are you installing in this timelapse?

The total rigging plus the artwork: a total weight of maybe 600-700 pounds. Mia Feuer’s work is being held by a hanging grid made of aluminum adapted from a previous design by Steve Brown (former Senior Director of Operations). I worked with three contractors to reinforce the back brace of the grid which was initially designed to go into the skylight and disappear when it wasn’t being used. We salvaged the core grid from the 70% that remained of the initial design, then calculated what additional parts we would need to add in order for the grid to hold the significantly more weighty Feuer work.

After a 3D model was made using Sketchup, the grid was then fabricated on-site in the rotunda and raised into the cupola of the rotunda ( the attic space between the skylight and room).  This process took two complete days. After the rig was secured 28 feet off the ground with aviation cable, we set up two sets of scaffolding, a lift, and two ladders to place Feuer’s work on the grid. The trees were 30 to 50 pounds with steel armatures, chicken wire and roofing paper. A lanyard pulley carried a cable attached to each tree secured with a carabiner. A man in the lift would assist up top in the hanging grid. It got tricky when one tree would have to be hung above another tree. There were a total of seven trees, it was very complex.

After the trees, we placed the foam girders, parts of a large oil rig and tank structure, and then completed the loose appearance with tie-wire. Through the entire process, Mia would direct from below, adjusting everything through us. The feathers came last–there were a lot, maybe three-hundred. Then the piping came in. There was a point when we had piping going in on the left and feathers on the right. It was a big collaboration between teams— but we did it, and it looks great.

NOW at the Corcoran – Mia Feuer: An Unkindness is on exhibit through February 23, 2014.