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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Demetra Copoulos and Melissa Hartley-Omholt uncrate Pablo Picasso's "Angry Owl," which is returning to the museum after a touring exhibition has ended. (PHOTO: Adam Horwitz)

In Arts & Entertainment

Art Museum registrar Dawn Gorman Frank and preparator Keith Nelson work on uncrating a recently arrived work. (PHOTO: Adam Horwitz)

Behind the scenes: Registrars keep tabs on Milwaukee's art treasures


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OMC: You do that with Jim (DeYoung)?

DGF: Yes, and again because there are just so many exhibitions, we tend to share the workload between us and the conservation department. If it is something that is very complicated or a lot of works on paper, they will definitely look at it. It depends on also the condition of the work (and) if there is a staff person that comes with the exhibition. For example, "European Design," which was our just recent exhibition, Melissa worked on that a lot. You could talk about that, Melissa.

Melissa Hartley-Omholt: That was an exhibition that was organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Arts. Mel Buchanan was the curator for that. So since that registrar (at IMA) organized the exhibition, she kind of took care of a lot of those details, and when it came to us, their registrar came, as well, for the exhibition and they also had someone else that came to assist. Then they had a conservator that came, and so I just arranged the schedule here.

OMC: You were sort of a liaison for them?

MHO: Exactly, and then I arranged to have everything unpacked with her and then Terri White, from our conservation department -- our objects conservator -- she helped, as well, and we did all the unpacking. Obviously with the crew and all the inspection. Then I oversaw the installation.

OMC: For the traveling shows, is it easier for you in that sense? Are you accepting one big loan as opposed to 200 little loans?

DGF: Exactly, yes. There is a loan contract and that particular institution is in charge of making sure that all of the individual loan contracts are signed and taken care of and are arranged for the insurance and, generally, the shipping. We work with them to receive the artwork and to fit the exhibition and installation schedule into our schedule, and to work together, but a lot of that paperwork is done.

MHO: Which is nice, but the challenge of that show (European Design) is it was such a big show -- it was over 100 crates -- and then it was a decorative arts show, which can be a little installation-heavy, as opposed to 2-D show, which can still be a little bit time-consuming. But 3-D shows are generally more time-consuming.

OMC: Do those traveling shows usually arrive on semi trucks?

DGF: Generally on a semi-trailer depending on the size of the show. The European Design exhibition had I think six truckloads and the smaller shows can have as little as one trailer. That's part of our job, coordinating with the art preparators and our space down here; the day that we can receive it, depending on other activity going on in the work area. Other shows may be being shipped out or shipped in at the same time.

OMC: You are in charge of coordinating all that, too?

DGF: Yes, we have a specific calendar -- shipping in and shipping out -- because we have a lot of activity, (shows) are concentrated at certain times of the year. A lot of the installation schedules tend to run together. Some of the shows open around the same time. Along with that we just had two traveling exhibitions that closed.

So, as Melissa described how the Indianapolis Museum coordinated everything, because we organized those two shows, they were coordinated by me here in Milwaukee once they closed. The Warhol show went to three additional museums and the Rohlfs show went to four additional museums.

OMC: So once they close here they don't end for you?

DGF: No, they don't end for me. They do end for the museum staff. We tend to be the point person and if it's a question that we cannot answer -- if its marketing or a curatorial question or an installation question -- we direct it toward the particular department. We do all the coordinating, getting all the crates to that next exhibition. If there are couriers that are required to accompany exhibitions to the next institution, we arrange travel.

MHO: And then we generally put a whole book together of installation instructions, packing instructions, condition reports, and that travels with the show. So it's quite a lot of work that we have to do.

DGF: And basically we are accountable for the safekeeping of the art, until its returned back to the owner.

Many times depending on the exhibition will determine whether a museum staff person should accompany the installation. For instance for Warhol and for Charles Rohlfs we had a museum staff person there for the installation and the de-installation. Because there are so many specific details, quite a few couriers and a lot of logistics, being familiar with that type of exhibition it made it a lot easier for each venue.

But in some cases we don't have to do that. We are organizing a small (Warrington) Colescott exhibition based on the larger one that we just had here at the museum, and because it's a works on paper exhibition everything needs to be framed, and we worked with the institutions. We may not need to send somebody, but we definitely do all the legwork to get it ready to package it up and send it out.

OMC: You guys manage the vaults and collections as well as storage, too?

MHO: Right, I saw Brady (Roberts, chief curator) took you into the vault. We have several vaults, but only 10 percent of the collection is on display generally, so everything else is in storage. It's our job to manage those spaces and track the artwork and everything. There is a print vault on the mezzanine level and (collections manager of works on paper) Brooke Mulvaney manages that. She is in charge of the works on paper in that area, but we do the inventory and track the artwork and the storage spaces.

OMC: So what does that mean for you on a day-to-day basis, what kind of things do you deal with, is it dealing with things as they go into storage and come out of storage, and once they're in there, they just sort of sitting there?

DGF: Well, in every storage space we have a log, so an art preparator or conservator or registrar who has access is responsible for logging something in and out, and at the end of the day Melissa is responsible for entering all that information into our database so we have as current information as possible.

OMC: So that at any given time you know exactly where everything is?

DGF: Exactly. And then we try annually to do a comprehensive inventory just to reconcile all of our records, just to check and see if someone didn't make a record. We don't have problems with theft. But we really need to be accountable in the event that there is a disaster. You need to prepare a schedule for an insurance company, and you really need to know where everything is at any given time. For works coming in and out of the museum we generate a receipt also and that is something that comes out of our office. We just did the accounts, we just did about a thousand things that came in last year in 2010.

OMC: In terms of acquisitions?

DGF: No anything: an exhibition, a loan or something that may have come in for study purposes (or for) an acquisition; things come in to be approved for an acquisition. So everything is tracked and if it comes in, it generates a receipt, and then we just distribute that. If it stays here permanently and if its acquired, then that's fine, but we still have to generate receipts. We have to track everything in the event that we lose anything along the way.

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