For the past three months I have been the curatorial intern here at the Elmhurst Art Museum, working under curator Staci Boris. On the day of my interview, Staci took me back into the McCormick House. We talked about the upcoming exhibitions that would take place in that space, Room by Room and Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979, as well as the annual benefit auction, Soiree, all on which I would work if I got the position. By the end of our interview it was clear that if I wanted to be a part of the EAM team I needed to be know at least one thing very well: Mies van der Rohe and his role in the making of modern architecture.
Of course I’ve learned much more than that in my time here. From the history of the McCormick House and its occupants, to how to research, write about, and put together over 50 works of art for an auction, to the specific values of vintage Playboy issues, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge over my short time here. On the level of functionality in a small museum, the first essential lesson is to learn how be juggler of many tasks, a wearer of many hats. In a single day I had researched the woman who first lived in the McCormick House, an important yet under-recognized poet and Poetry Magazine editor by the name of Isabella Gardner, meticulously applied vinyl letters to a very resistant wall, and surfed the Internet for the terms and conditions of art auctions. Never having claimed to be tech-savvy in any sense of the term (I’m a failure to my title of Millennial), I’ve spent hours configuring three Sonos speakers to play jazz music throughout the McCormick House for the Playboy exhibit, testing projectors, and reading tech forums for the best way to play gifs on tablets. (I never knew a device had to be “rooted” for certain apps to function before last week.)
Museums can be viewed as many things: pleasurable, sacred, elite, educational, mausoleums, etc. Traditionally, there is the museum template of white walls, clear labels, a suggested path to follow from gallery to gallery. It is ritual; it is routine. What I loved about being here at the Elmhurst Art Museum is the chaos, the collaboration, the will of every individual working behind the scenes that makes that calm, cohesive exhibit possible. The success of our work (from my view) is in the details of reception: the exhilaration of the guests entering David Wallace Haskins’ Void Room, the look of comprehension on people’s faces when they realize that it does make sense to have an exhibit on Playboy design in an art museum, the excitement of a community at Soiree raising thousands and thousands of dollars for the museum after months of work by us all.
The possibility of all these moments relies on the invisibility of our labor, the erasure of any struggles or large effort. And many times those physically involved in hanging the works or building and painting walls or platforms are not cited for their work. But this effort comes not from a desire of recognition but from the desire to have other people benefit from the work (either in those pleasurable, educational, and other forms). There is a pleasure taken in seeing the success of chaos in an institution, a success in somehow always pulling it off. The thrill is enough to continue to seek out spots in museums, galleries, or just in the arts period.