Behind the Scenes

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I am inspired by anything associated with the National Gallery of Art. If I could decamp there overnight or longer, I would in a heartbeat.

I received what I’d like to think was a nice birthday present a few weeks ago, when I woke up to read this article about Mark Leithauser, Chief of Design at the NGA, my former boss and exceptionally talented painter and exhibition designer. Fortunately, we’ve stayed in touch over the years. I can really relate to how Mark describes his work at the NGA:

“I think what you want to do as an exhibit designer is to make the work feel at home. Some of the modern art, if you put them on a white wall they look old. Some Picassos are almost 100 years old, and if they only have white walls, they look like they are in a laboratory.”

1_Mark-Leithauser_NGA_via Washington Post, as seen on Art Is Everywhere

The Washington Post calls him, “The Invisible Museum Artist” who “spends a lot of time focused on the background.” There is definitely a talent to making all aspects of the exhibition work together in order to give the viewer an intimate experience with the art. As an artist and academic, Mark can bridge all these components seamlessly together, sometimes without much notice but that’s the magic and the illusion of not showing what goes on behind the scenes that makes it work.

Mark-Leithauser_Illusions via Hollis-Taggart, as seen on Art Is Everywhere

I guess since I couldn’t stay in Exhibition Design, I’m finding ways to execute what I love with painting, Art History and Design with Casart coverings:

“This is what we are trying to do with the types of wallcovering designs that we offer for Casart coverings. They are supposed to make one’s furnishing feel at home. We don’t want to compete but complement with what someone already has in their home. Therein the reason for some of our subtle decorative finishes like faux-linen and colorwash. As a decorative painter, I typically do not do finishes that are over-the-top but rather enhance a client’s decor. The patterns that we offer give some figurative styling to a background but unlike traditional or more busy patterns that appear as definite manufactured repeats, ours are meant to look hand-painted or illustrated and randomly placed, as if they were painted directly on the wall.”

Some of our designs also are also inspired by artwork and exhibitions, as our Birds & Birch was sparked by the Gaman exhibit.

Casart-coverings_Birds-Birch_1x_Art Is Everywhere

I think Apples in Stereo, The Bird That You Cannot See seems appropriate for this post and to Kick-Start the Weekend.

Curatorial Lectures

I really love the National Gallery. It’s my favorite museum by design and acquisition and that it is so accessible. I used to work there and that probably has something to do with my continued affection for the NGA.

When I first worked at the NGA, I was an intern in the Public Relations Office — the administrative side — before I worked later on the exhibition side. This was a wonderful opportunity to learn the behind the scenes tactics of what it takes to operate a famous and large-scale public art museum. Fortunately, I was able to do this with a Tonya Grant from my university. Normally this was used for mostly government and public affairs internships but I was the first one (at the time) to be awarded this with regard to the art /museum realm. When I was there, we were periodically asked to do research at CASVA, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, situated in the East tower wing, taking up several floors among administrative offices. This was fun and intimidating to do. So many scholars were surrounding us. However, I was happy to see that this “hidden” gem and its several scholars were recently profiled in the Washington Post. As Blake Gopnick states in his article, “They work in the shadows to find new insights into art — so that the rest of us don’t have to.” Actually, I would love to, but it would be a luxury at this point with so little time….I’m kind of envious. What a dream job it would be to study art. Art history is still my first academic love; although, I equally enjoy creating art as well, but to be able to delve into historical periods, artistic movements and particular artists of interest and within your profession…. Artists, as well as art historians are part of CASVA.

Current CASVA scholars at NGA. Photo by Bill O'leary. Washington Post

Many lectures take place at the NGA which showcase their work. I used to attend regularly. Having kids, kinda changed that but now that my husband and I are empty nesters and our boys are nearly both in college, they might appreciate attending. Something to put on the summer calendar; although, the CASVA lectures by this point will have finished. Others remain and are ongoing, regarding current and permanent exhibitions. I would have liked to have attended, The Body of Perfection, the Perfection of the Body and Representation and Imitation.

Coincidentally, I had a discussion recently at a dinner party about my behind the scenes experience at the NGA and I recommended the childrens book, The Nine-Ton Cat, by Peggy Thomson as a pretty accurate and basic perspective of all the things we don’t notice when just going there to view the art.

Nine-Ton-Cat by Peggy Thomson