How to hang an art exhibition
And so the time has come… Exhibition day is almost upon you. You’ve loaded up the back of your compact car with all your artworks in such a way that you would think that your vehicle must defy the laws of the universe by having more interior space than is indicated by its exterior dimensions. Rear vision mirror view safety has made way for bubble wrap and canvas.
You walk through the gallery door, not sure what to expect…
If this is a commercial gallery then the chances are that this is where you now leave the creations that you have slaved over so lovingly during the preceding months, now to be hung by the Gallery staff. The presentation of your artistic genius is in their hands.
If this is a community or self hosted exhibition then its now all up to you and you have a very short time to get everything up on the walls ready to stun your visitors with your all round clever-clogness. The white cube of space echoes as you walk around inside. Blank. Empty and possibly a bit intimidating.
Questions race through your mind.
- “Do I have enough artwork to fill this vast void?”
- Yes of course you do! You measured the space before you started preparing for the exhibition. (You did, didn’t you? )
- “Will it look any good?”
- Yes it will. Here’s a gallery secret. Those bright white halogen track lights on the ceiling make just about everything look a million dollars.
- “Is my art a load of rubbish and should I leave now?”
- It’s too late. You’ve sent out all the invitations and the opening night party is tomorrow. Don’t worry. You are brilliant (*insert addition pep talk phrase of your own choice here).
- “Where is the ladder?”
- Probably in the store room.
Gallery Hanging Systems
Most galleries that host artist run exhibitions have some kind of hanging system. Ideally it will be the adjustable kind with clear nylon hangers that drop from the ceiling and down the wall, with little metal adjustable hooks. Its best to find out though way before the time of your exhibition and have all your artworks prepared ready for hanging.
I like to be prepared for the unexpected, so I carry a little red tool box containing all manner of hanging related bits and bobs. Mine has within it spare wire and string, screws, wall hooks, nails, wire, gaffa tape, removable double sided sticky pads, blu-tak, an assortment of small tools including a hammer, screwdrivers and my trusty bradall tool for making small holes. I’ve had to use it at just about every exhibition I’ve ever hung. I suggest you pack your own ‘survival kit’ similarly.
Okay, time to bump in (not literally; this is the show-speak term for setting up your exhibition. Later you will ‘bump out’).
The first thing to do is to unload the car and stack all the artworks around the walls on the floor. Don’t hang them yet and don’t be too fussy. Just drop them around the room in semi-organised thematic groups so you can see them all, placing any large feature pieces in the rough vicinity of where they might eventually hang.The thematic groups can be whatever you want them to be. Maybe it’s colour, maybe it’s subject matter. Maybe there’s a narrative story which guides the hanging. It could be just whatever looks good together. Decide early on and your job will be easier.
Stand in the middle of the room and look around. Do all the artworks ‘work’ together? You will have to use some imagination as all the artworks are currently sitting on the floor.
Start sorting and moving the artworks around the walls (on the floor – don’t hang yet). Usually I find that at this stage that the artworks that don’t fit with each other stand out, and ‘call me’ to move them. The really good feature pieces that I want everyone to see get prime position, and I organised the others around them.
Got them sorted into groups? Good. Look at how all the groups work. You might have to swap entire groups around the room if they don’t play well together.
Steady as she goes
At this point it’s easy to get over excited and flustered, and in your mad rush to get everything sorted out, pick up an artwork and accidently bash it against a wall or another artwork. Once the bubble wrap is off, your artworks will suddenly seem to have a magnetic attraction to each other so take it easy. You don’t want be doing last minute restoration of scratches, dings and bumps right now.
Get an assistant to help you
Got all your artworks organised into groups? Good.
Now it’s time to hang your exhibition. It always good to have someone to assist if at all possible, with one person going up the ladder, and another to pass up artworks and then stand back and tell you if the arrangement on the wall is even and pleasing to the eye.
Hunting high and low
I prefer to hang all artworks at eye level (museum style) but that is not always possible. I suggest trying to hang at least one row directly at eye level and then arranging all the others above and below those.
This is the point at which madness can set in
It’s easy at this point to become obsessive about getting everything ‘straight’. Do not fall into this trap. Leave straightening till later as inevitably things will move. Only engage in obsessive straightening once all the artworks are hanging in their final positions. Use blu-tak, sticky pads or cork pads to make sure artworks stay in place if required.
If possible head up your step ladder to adjust the position of the lights for optimum loveliness. There’s generally only a limited number of spotlights available so you might have to make some strategic decisions to highlight key pieces, with other artworks receiving just a general ambient light. Halogen lights can be hot. Be careful up there.
Okay, so the exhibition is hung, the lights are on and its looking like a million dollars. Now is the time to pop the little cards on the wall to indicate the catalogue number, title, medium and price. Don’t skimp. Make classy looking ones and hang them carefully so that they are easy to see and relate directly to their corresponding artwork.
Make yourself a nice cup of tea
You’ve spent all day loading, unloading, arranging, and running up and down ladders. You’re probably pretty tired by now. Put the kettle on, make a cup of tea and sit down quietly in the corner and admire what you’ve created. This exhibition has been months in the planning and execution, and now it’s finally here, in it’s rightful place. Enjoy it all to yourself for a while and don’t forget to get your camera out now and take a few pictures. The next time you see this exhibition it will be filled with people admiring your artworks, with you as the superstar centre of attention!