February 24 – June 3, 2018
Art(work) presents an exhibition of local San Jose preparators including ICA Installation Manager, Michael Oechsli; Cynthia Cao; Martie Guile; and Damian Kelly.
As art appreciators, we often take for granted the perfect neatness and pristine presentation of art in art museums and galleries: the neatly painted white walls, precisely hung work, and well illuminated pieces. Although these environments seem natural to us, the amount of time and work put into each exhibition is staggering.
After settling on an exhibition’s theme and choosing the artists, curators meet with “art preparators,” the individuals and crews who install art in galleries. The curators and art preparators begin a rigorous collaborative process that involves months of planning, measuring, mapping, and then reworking plans. Weeks leading up to an exhibition, the gallery space is filled with the sounds of drilling, the up-and-down squawking of a scissor lift, and incessant hammering as art preparators, usually dawning uniforms of paint-splattered pants, begin to install the art. Once a show ends, the preparator will deinstall and repack the art, repaint the walls, and prepare for the next cycle of exhibitions.
Many preparators are talented artists themselves, who begin working in art institutions due to their immense passion for art. Art(work) puts front and center the work of four local artists, all of whom currently work as art preparators: Cynthia Cao, Martie Guile, Damian Kelly, and Michael Oechsli. Through new paintings, prints, and sculptures, the artists in Art(work) explore how their jobs as preparators influence their artistic practice.
Michael Oechsli, the ICA’s Installation and Facilities Manager, sources his materials from the exhibition detritus he collects inside and outside the gallery, such as paint shavings from past exhibitions or palm tree fronds right outside the ICA doors. Like Oechsli, artist Martie Guile collects house paint and paint-splattered cardboard during installations to create abstract works. Cynthia Cao comments on the cyclical nature of installation work in her intaglio prints, documenting the behind-the-scenes activity that goes unseen by the gallery audience. The repetitive nature of preparator work is also evident in Damian Kelly’s work, consisting of shoes layered in paint splatters and time lapse videos, which act as mementos of the time spent prepping for numerous exhibitions throughout his career.
Despite holding down day jobs that are entirely separate from art making, all four of the artists in Art(work) continue to pursue their creative practice when the work day is over. By using the environment of their day job as a site to cultivate inspiration and art materials, these artists epitomize innovation and creativity. In doing so, their practices offer us a moment to reflect and consider how our routines and environments can be inspirational.