Inside the mind of a registrar

I often hear that people envy collections people for their interesting jobs. Being surrounded by art every day, being allowed to touch the originals, isn’t it wonderful? Granted, it is. But there are downsides, too. And I’m not talking about low payment, too much work and too few jobs or taking on responsibilities no one can really take (Preserving stuff in a way it’s still accessible in over 100 years? Find someone who accepts this bet!). I talk about what happens in your brain when you go to an art exhibition.

How bad can it be? Well, I made a snapshot of my mind when I visited the Midsummer Party at the Kiasma at the European Registrars Conference in Helsinki. They had their 13th collection exhibition and I was standing before „Laajentuja“ („Expander“) by Kimmo Schroderus from 2004.

„Laajentuja“ („Expander“) by Kimmo Schroderus, 2004

„Laajentuja“ („Expander“) by Kimmo Schroderus, 2004
[Helsinki, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art]

„Oh, look at this, it’s gorgeous! Do you see the telescopic expanders? This thing will fit in literally every room. You understand? Every room. You can set it up in a castle, an aisle, a large exhibition hall, no matter what. And this should be easy to ship, too. I guess for the center sphere you will need a special crate, but the expanders should fit into a standard one. Well, only if they are really telescopic. Maybe they just look telescopic. If they are separate pieces, do you think they are hollow, so they fit into each other? Well, no, I guess this is too risky, think of the attrition. We will need several crates in this case. Or could we use pallets? What do you think, would they be good on pallets?“

And then my right brain snapped:

„Oh, shut up, left brain, I’m trying to enjoy the art!“

That’s it. That’s why you can’t really enjoy exhibitions if you are a collection manager.


BTW: Several weeks later I discovered a „making of“ from Kiasma that solved a few of the questions I had:

This post is also available in Russian translated by Helena Tomashevskaya.


6 thoughts on “Inside the mind of a registrar”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! Its nice to know I am not alone. My children have been afflicted as well. They always notice whether labels are on straight or are about to fall off or if the case needs to be dusted.

  2. That moment when you lean in to look closer and realize you’re trying to figure out how they made the mount. The piece is lovely but damn that mount is invisible! Again, thank you for voicing our shared head space. I always enjoy your postings.

  3. Yes! I also spend far more time looking at how the items are mounted, lighted, placed in the case, arranged, etc. and reading/critiquing the labels, to actually pay attention to what is happening.

  4. Up today I was thinking that something is wrong with me!!!! It appears that all registrars & curators go mad with the same symptoms:):):):):)

  5. Exactly! We’re the people who go into an exhibition and wonder about indemnity arrangements and forget to look at the art. Inside the mind of a Registrar is a frightening place to be some times…

  6. So very, very true! I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed an exhibition solely for its’s always how would I ship that? Is that the best way to display? OMG think of the logistics of traveling that through the building! and on and on… 🙂

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