Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/12/2018 (263 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I vividly remember going into Platform Gallery and seeing a car — an actual car, painted resplendently gold — hanging on a wall. It was part of a 2010 show by artist Divya Mehra, who splits her time among Winnipeg, New York and Delhi, and it made a complex statement about racism, colonialism, power and identity.
I thought about its meaning for a while, and then I thought, "How the heck did they get that car on this wall?"
At this week’s First Fridays Art Talk/Art Walk, I’ll speak with artists Theo Sims and Collin Zipp, who have both worked extensively as art installers. Sims is head preparator at Plug In ICA, and Zipp is the director of Platform Gallery. Together, they also run Walleye Art Services, a company that packs, hangs and cares for artworks, working with institutions and individuals.
When we look at an art show, we tend to take the installation process for granted. In fact, we should take it for granted, according to Zipp.
"That’s a key thing about an installer. You make it look like no one was there, so it becomes all about the art," he explains. "It’s like a magic trick."
Through the centuries, there have been different trends in hanging art, from the crowded salon-style popular in the 18th and 19th centuries to the clean, white, sparse installations of the mid-20th century. These days, as art forms come off the wall and extend into all kinds of complex media, an art installer never knows what a day’s work might bring.
Take Toxicity, a 2013 show at Plug In ICA that looked at intersections of biology and technology and required Sims and Zipp to handle live viruses. "The work came in a bio-hazard case, and we had gloves on and plastic aprons," Zipp recalls.
Or consider the work of the American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, who just supplied detailed instructions for his wall paintings and left it up to the installers to execute them. Sims was involved in a LeWitt install in Belfast.
"It was so traumatic," he says with a laugh. LeWitt looked at the gallery space online, and then sent the specs, requesting a wavy line with colours above and below.
"He wanted all the painting to be done with a five-inch brush in a star formation around the whole room, and he wanted a perfect line with no bleed," Sims says.
"And we did it. And it looked incredible."
Zipp relates an adventurous install at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights of Rebecca Belmore’s Trace, in which a blanket of clay beads hangs four stories up. Getting it in place involved spider lifts and cranes, harnesses and safety gear. "And I’m scared of heights," Zipp adds.
Then there are tech-heavy pieces that require making cables and wires disappear, digging up and fixing old technologies like slide projectors and VCRs, or working with new, cutting-edge developments in robotics or lasers.
"Every install has an issue of some sort," Zipp says. "Nothing ever goes as planned."
Clearly, a good installer has to be an engineer, a carpenter, a mathematician, a designer, a diplomat and a tinkerer.
"It all comes down to problem solving," Zipp says.
"A couple of times there’s been all-nighters," Sims says, "but somehow you always manage to get it done.
"I’ve only missed one opening, and it was mine. It was in Belfast, and there’d been a bomb scare and they’d cordoned off the whole area so we couldn’t get into the gallery — so, that’s a good reason."
Having survived all this craziness in the contemporary gallery world, Sims and Zipp are full of advice when it comes to the (hopefully less tricky) task of hanging art in your home. First off, use the best framing and hanging system you can afford. "Some people spend $1,000 on a painting and then put it in a $15 frame," Zipp states. That’s false economy.
And while some designers confidently declare a rule for hanging artworks so the centre line is at 145 centimetres (57 inches), you also have to take into account the dimensions of the room, the height of the ceiling, the placement of furniture, the quality of light. "It’s always about working with the space you have," according to Zipp.
"Also, levels don’t work," Sims says. At least, they don’t work if your floors or ceilings are wonky, as they often are in older Winnipeg structures.
Ultimately, the important thing about installation is making sure it serves the art.
As Zipp suggests, "When you install art, you get to know how artists work and how they operate, and you get to understand so much more, which I think is very exciting.
"As an artist and someone who loves art, it’s the perfect job."
Oh, and that car? If you want to find out how they got it into the gallery and up on the wall, come out for the First Fridays Art Talk/Art Walk with Collin Zipp and Theo Sims.
The talk takes place on Friday at 6 p.m., with a guided art tour of the Exchange afterwards. Call 204-421-0682 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve tickets, which include dinner and cost $20, plus tax.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.