Saturday May 9th was Art Day at the Museum. Art Day is generally held once or twice a year and allows the public to bring for curators and conservators to look at a maximum of three works of art about which they would like more information.
This year, curatorial study stations were set up in the Museum auditorium where guests could watch curators in action while they sat and waited for their sign-in number to be called. Generally, the art brought in occupies the European art and American curators more than the others. Nonetheless, all curators are trained to look at art with a keen eye and those of us with different expertise can also help decipher signatures and dates, and assist with other tasks-like leading guests to the conservation and library stations.
Conservators will also examine works of art and offer advice if guests have restoration queries or want to know how to display their art properly in their home. Safe display will increase the longevity of your favourite artworks, no question about that. Should guests have questions about artist’s signatures, our Museum librarian has access to databases and signature catalogues that help identify the person who created the painting as well as auction catalogues to figure out what similar works have brought in at auctions. Lists of appraisers in the area are also available (due to conflict of interest, the Museum cannot give appraisals).
Egyptian art is very rarely brought in at Art Day, so I was the person documenting the event for the blog, going from station to station, talking to the public, and offering an opinion here and there. You can view my photos of Art Day 2009 on Flickr.
As I walked through the crowd, I heard several guests murmur to each other in astonishment when they realised that curators look at the back of a painting as much as the front of it. Sometimes, we even have to take the work of art out of the frame. A tiny inscription, a gallery label, even the remnants of an old shipping tag on the back of a frame can provide the key to unlock a work of art’s history. I tried to document these fascinating aspects of a curator’s job with the photographs.
The gallery installations and the opening of the building will keep curators and conservators very busy for the next several months, so another Art Day has not been scheduled yet (information will be updated as soon as a date is set for Art Day 2010). In the meantime, you can visit the Museum’s Art Reference Library (Tuesday to Friday between 10am and 4pm) to do research and find out more about the works of art you own.