Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Unpacking Crates for the Laura Letinsky Exhibition

If you’ve stopped by the photography gallery since the end of September only to find the doors closed, you’ve probably been awaiting the next exhibition: Laura Letinsky: Still Life Photographs, 1997–2012. While the show opens on October 28th, plenty of work has been going on behind the scenes to ensure the gallery—and the artwork—will be ready for the opening.

Unlike the preceding Garry Winogrand show, in which all the work was from the DAM collection, the Letinsky pieces will be arriving from the artist’s gallery in New York. I hadn’t previously seen any of these photographs, so I was eagerly awaiting news of their arrival to Denver, and made certain to be present for a first glimpse when the crates were opened in early October. While I was watching, I took some photos to document what happens once art arrives at the museum.

 

The museum uses specialized art shippers who prepare and crate the work at the gallery, then transport it via truck to the museum. Laura Letinsky’s work arrived in two large, wooden crates. Their size is reflective of the size of her photographs: the exhibition will include just 18 pieces, many quite sizeable.

 

After unfastening the top of the crate, we see that the artwork has been well protected from the juddering and jouncing of travel by several layers of foam. Each photograph is wrapped in plastic sheeting—which provides a basic protective barrier from scratching and moisture—then has another layer of insulation between it and the object below.

 

 

The museum’s preparators, Amy Barrett and Mitchell Broadbent, move each piece from the crate to a clean work table, then remove the tape securing the plastic sheeting. (A hint from Amy and Mitchell: brown packing tape is much easier to remove from plastic than clear tape.)

 

Finally, each object is tagged with a unique identification number that helps museum staff with identification and location of pieces while they’re in the museum.

Next, our registrars, Sarah Cucinella-McDaniel (pictured here) and Stephanie Skiles (at the top of the page), create condition reports for each piece. This requires close examination to identify any damage that might have occurred during transit. Anything they find is noted and reported back to the gallery. The registrars also take precise measurements of each object, both for verification and to ease recrating for the return trip following the exhibition.

 

Once condition reporting is complete the photographs are placed onto A-frame carts to be transported up to the gallery. After a few more steps: installation, lighting, and labeling, they will be ready for you to see.

Laura Letinsky: Still Life Photographs, 1997–2012 will be on view October 28 through March 24, 2013, in the Anthony and Delisa Mayer Photography Gallery, on level 7 of the North Building.

Micah Messenheimer is the curatorial assistant in the Denver Art Museum's photography department. Micah has been at the DAM since 2010. He recommends that visitors don’t miss the exhibition Photography & Vision: The Influence of Joyce and Ted Strauss on the seventh level of the North Building.