Continuing on from last week’s blog on how to get your artwork ready for an exhibition, this week I am looking at how to hang a group exhibition.
These days if we want to know something, we generally ‘Google’ it.
I did just that when embarking on this blog but I could not find anything about hanging a mixed exhibition. Maybe it is expected that, being artists we should already know about this stuff, but it is not straight forward. There are things which need to be considered in order that it works.
This is how I approach hanging a mixed show; other approaches are probably available.
I always start with the big pieces. I ask all the artists who want to show large works to bring them in before everyone else. By large I am talking about a piece with any side longer than about 32 inches (80 cm). It is a nightmare if someone turns up at the last minute with a huge work to hang when all the smaller pieces have already been put in place.
I then just take a walk around the space to see how those large pieces sit within it. There tends to be a route around an exhibition, and you want the large pieces to draw the viewers in as they walk around the corner and then the smaller pieces will be seen by default.
Contrary to popular belief, arranging artwork by the colour of their frames is not a good idea. People don’t visit an exhibition to look at the frames, which can be changed. They are interested in the art so arrange works in themes, be that subject or colour, which is far more pleasing on the eye.
If you are hanging your own work in a solo show or in space/booth you have paid for, hanging your work is different. There you may very well want to hang all your black frames together etc. because your work will have the same feel to it already but here I am referring to a mixed show, e.g. with an art group, where there’s a variety of different works, media, subject, sizes etc.
It is also likely when hanging a group show that your work will be on peg board and will be mixed in with other people’s work. Some art groups keep members’ work together whilst others mix it up. Regardless of the group’s policy, you are unlikely to have a really cohesive display of your work, but that is not unlike a gallery which is showing works from numerous artists.
The rule of thumb for hanging work as observed by museums and galleries it that the centre of any artwork should be placed 60 inches from the floor. This is apparently because the average height of a person in the UK is 5’6” (66 inches) and a person’s eyes are generally about six inches lower than the top of their head, so Mr. or Mrs. Average’s eyes will align with the centre of the artwork! I guess that this is the same logic that supermarkets use to determine on which shelf to display the food items they wish to shift. Clearly you can’t do that with a mixed show but do think about how visible a work will be when hanging it and whatever your height, do not let your work hang below or above the peg boards. It just looks naff.
Also remember as I wrote last week that when hung the string and hooks in the peg board should not be visible (this won’t happen if you follow the ‘how to string artwork’ in my blog), and also it is highly recommended that you use two hooks per piece, and not just one. Using two hooks will help ensure that you can get the artwork to hang level, and stay that way. Using two hooks also allows you to get the artwork hanging at exactly the height you want, as moving the hooks slightly together or apart will raise or lower the piece by fractions of an inch so that you can align pieces relative to each other.
If possible, try to give the artwork breathing room. This is not always easy but if there is an opportunity to group small, similar works tightly together to create a mini display within the board, it can allow other works to have a larger space around them. Grouping pieces together in a tight cluster makes a statement about those works and will attract the viewer’s attention. This grouping can also be done with large works to make a real impact.
If space allows, place chairs around the exhibition to allow people to sit and contemplate a piece of work. This enables your visitors to consider how that work would look from the comfort of their armchair. Adding a small table with literature about the artists displaying also helps to create an ‘at home’ feeling.
Many art groups meet in halls that only have overhead lighting, which really doesn’t illuminate artwork well, so depending upon your group’s finances you may well wish to consider in investing in sets of spotlights.
Unless you are lucky enough to have deep pockets, you will probably have a limited number of spotlights, so in order to create the most pleasing light coverage, try cross-lighting to spread the light over your work. Nowadays there is a wide availability of very low energy LED bulbs available in different colour temperatures (daylight, cool white, warm white) – I suggest that before you bulk purchase the bulbs, you try one of each ‘temperature’ to see what works best with a selection of the artwork.
Whichever you choose, make sure that all bulbs are the same – it doesn’t look good to have ill-matched bulbs in the spotlight fixtures. Power consumption of LED bulbs is extremely low, so you needn’t worry about chaining a large number together, but as with anything electrical follow all sensible precautions, don’t take risks and watch out that there aren’t any trailing cables for anyone to trip over.
Having hung your exhibition, to make it look really professional it is worth having all the labels printed off and attached by the organisers. Handwritten bits of paper, which will curl up in a hall overnight, don’t cut it. There are plenty of people with computers these days and buying labels is easy too. Find a label size you can work with and then use their software to print the labels. It does make a big difference to the final presentation.
All the photos here were taken by me. The majority are of the Banstead Art Groups October 2019 exhibition which shows the great standard of work produced by its members. I have also included a photo from my own stand at an exhibition to illustrate the use of lighting on a stand.