Curating behind the scenes #05: Before and after the eleventh hour

26 May 2015 - 13:30

Curating behind the scenes is a blog-style series written by Daniël Geldenhuys, taking readers through the behind-the-scenes process of organising and curating The Thinking Eye: Photographs by Neville Dubow – a retrospective exhibition honouring the late Prof Neville Dubow at the Irma Stern Museum. Exhibition open till 27 May 2015. See the rest of the series here.






How hard can it be to hang an exhibition when you don’t even have to do the actual hanging? Three days before the opening of The Thinking Eye: Photographs by Neville Dubow I discovered it was, as I had suspected, a breeze. It was a fine Wednesday morning and we interns, Antonia Bamford and myself, were frolicking in a sea of tissue paper and bubble wrap, unwrapping the framed photographs and placing them in the rooms in which they were to be hanged.

As I watched curators Marilyn Martin and Paul Weinberg talk placement of works and wall spacing with the expert artwork hanger (his business card probably says something else, but this is how I think of him) I told myself to savour the moment. Never did I think that three days later I’d be cursing a PC, my hands still wet with paint as I attempted to get the final label ready while the first guests arrived at the opening.

The drama began on the Thursday afternoon when I missioned ten frames from Paul’s office at UCT Special Collections on Upper Campus down to the Irma Stern Museum on Lower Campus for the Michaelis 4th year photography mini exhibition downstairs from the Dubow show. Irma Stern Museum administrator and all-round legend (her business card probably says something else, but this is how I think of her) Lucinda Cullum informed me that our catalogues had arrived. How could I resist? I tore open the brown package, pulled out a catalogue, and promptly felt my heart collapse into a million drops of sorrowful disappointment. The printers got the pages completely wrong.

It’s times like this when you need to call an adult – someone wiser than you who can make it all better. I called Paul Weinberg and he managed to do just that. On Friday morning the email came through: the printers would redo the entire job and have the catalogues ready by 10:30 on Saturday when the show opened.

The rest of the Friday was spent hanging the student exhibition and hiding cables behind the television which shows an edit of Neville Dubow’s work that didn’t make it onto the walls. The labels arrived at the eleventh hour, so we interns put them up as Marilyn arranged memorabilia in the display cases and Paul did practical manly things with power tools.

More drama. A few of the labels were missing and the introductory label for the student exhibition was printed business card size when it should have been A3. Now it’s past five on a Friday night. We run to Irma Stern Museum Director Christopher Peter’s office to alert him of the problem. He calls the printers and the next morning when I arrive at half past nine the printer himself arrives, like a vision, and produces the missing labels. Or so I thought.

An hour later Antonia tells me one more label for the student show has fallen through the cracks. I leave Paul to finish doing the paint touchups on the walls where the… actually, don’t ask.

Lucinda, saving the day for the seventeenth time, allows Antonia and me to use her computer and printing facilities. We start the computer and wait two weeks for Microsoft to decide it’s not rocket science to open a Word document. A few minutes later the label is up and we’re clinking champagne.

The opening was wonderful – the museum was packed with people, including Dubow’s wife Rhona and daughter Jessica who flew down from the UK to attend. Of course the Michaelis photographers exhibiting work also attended to take the mandatory First Exhibition In A Major Museum Selfie. They’ve all left by now, but the works are still there until June 27th. I’d strongly recommend you visit. As a member of Team Dubow I’m a little biased, but I think at the very least the show will inspire you to look at the world around you differently. My internship may be over, but my eyes will now think, thanks to Neville Dubow, in a new way.

Header image: Team Dubow prepares to hang The Thinking Eye. Photographed by Daniël Geldenhuys