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two preparators center the artwork on a podium with guidance of Christina Clarke
Chief preparator Nikolas Asikis and preparator Matthew Cummings install the veranda post with input from Christa Clarke.

Installing the Arts of Africa

Guest blogger Kelly Holbert is Exhibition Manager at the Smith College Museum of Art

Early in 2021, while the museum was closed to the public, there was a lot of activity taking place behind closed doors. One of the projects was a major change to the third floor galleries. For the first time at SCMA the arts of Africa were integrated into the installation of American and European art. New themes and groupings were conceived by guest curator Dr. Christa Clarke, working with curator of painting and sculpture Danielle Carrabino and associate educator Taiga Ermansons.

Once the object list was finalized, practical “nuts and bolts” questions were raised, such as will all of the works fit in the chosen section of the gallery, and will we need to make new cases and mounts. We used planning tools that included a model of the gallery, Powerpoints of groupings, and a table full of print-outs and notes.

Works assembled in storage to be assessed for mounts and supports.
Pictures of art from the show lying on a table
Planning table for the cases and groupings, based on the curator’s requests.















An additional task involved assessing the condition of the objects, especially important for works that had never been on view. Once they were assembled in art storage, collections manager/registrar Deborah Diemente, chief preparator Nikolas Asikis and preparator Matthew Cummings could also consider the best ways to support and display the works in the gallery.

Masked woman talking to another woman on zoom about the installation
Guest curator Dr. Christa Clarke discusses an arrangement via Zoom with Kymberly Newberry, doctoral candidate in the The W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass, Amherst.
Matt and Nik hold up the royal beaded crowns so that Christa can determine the ideal heights.
















Finally, the time came when walls and pedestals were painted, mounts were made, and wall texts and labels were edited and ready for production. Christa Clarke supervised the installation in person with additional input from doctoral candidate Kymberly Newberry, who was “Zooming in” from UMass, Amherst.

While the many aspects of planning an installation or exhibition are too numerous to mention, I hope this small peek into how a gallery is installed will inspire people to consider the different roles, and range of career choices, that can be found in a museum!

Finished gallery wall, with view of royal beaded crowns and a carved totem
One of the finished walls in the gallery (photograph by Stephen Petegorsky)

Learn more about the Arts of Africa, c. 1825–1960 installation.


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