Behind The Scenes Of An Art Exhibit - Bump In

'Bump In'? Lol, when I first heard this term I thought I was mistaken. But no, bump in means setting up and hanging/installing the artworks for an art show. 'Bump Out' means... you guessed it, removing the artworks and patching the walls etc.

I helped with bump in for the '69 Steps Forward' exhibit at Yarra Sculpture Gallery, and I thought I'd take a few pics to give you a general idea of what it's like.

Normally if I'm hanging a solo show, I go all OCD and get the exact measurements of a space, draw up a to scale floor plan, cut out to scale bits of paper to represent my paitings, and make it all fit before I get there. That way I don't freak out too much, and can print the catalogue with numbers to just place it there while I bump in.

But, with a group exhibit it's a totally different story. For a start, you usually don't know the exact dimensions of the work you'll be hanging. Or if all the works will actually arrive. Or, more importantly, what works will look best/communicate better next to what other works. So, you generally wing it when it comes to group shows. Actually to be honest, I don't know any other artists who take my OCD approach. lol

Generally, this is what happens: (this can also be used as a 'how to' guide)
 Phase One:
The artworks arrive, hopefully on time and with hanging/installation instructions where applicable. (Otherwise people have to guess what way up a sculpture goes... lol) The artworks all have the artist's name, the price, title and medium clearly marked on the back.
Someone usually checks them off as they arrive. For a solo show, this is pretty easy as you just turn up with all your artworks and tools to hang them with. Unless like me you don't drive, in which case this is probably the hardest part - how do I get my 1.2mx1.2m canvas there on public transport? :/
Phase Two:
If I can, I prefer to do this before the artworks arrive but usually there's a limited window of time for bump in so this happens before the artworks are unwrapped. Basically, you need to get the space pretty again. During bump out, the last exhibitors will have patched the walls, swept the floor, touched up paintwork on the walls, and removed all traces of a previous exhibit so the gallery is a clean slate. Of course, we're all human and have different standards of cleanliness, so it always pays to be prepared and assume there's a little bit of work to do.
Often this just means removing the odd picture hook, patching a small hole, touching up the paint over the patch, dusting window sills and sweeping the floor. But then, I am a bit over the top when it comes to stuff like this... cleanliness is godliness (Smashing Pumpkins lyrics anyone?? lol).

Phase Three:
Assuming the floor is clean (if not, now is a good time to sweep it again), the artworks are placed up against the wall where they will hang. This is the longest part. They will be moved around a LOT. Unless you can see the work through the bubblewrap, unwrap the works but leave any corner protectors on. Hanging the works on the walls has to look good - as in balanced, the colours have to work together, they should have a similar message, all the landscapes in one area, or break all the rules and make a statement that way... basically where the artworks sit is similar to planning out a painting itself, as the works will tell a story by themselves and the wall will tell a story as the sum of the artworks on it....
When the right layout is finally selected, it's time for a coffee, then to come back and probably change it all again until it's perfect.

Phase Four
Now the hanging can start!
Depending on the intension of the layout, pick a starting point - usually the end of the wall, or the middle of the wall. I always measure the width between each artwork, and try and keep this consistent either for the whole exhibit or just a particular wall. A few cm on either end aren't really noticeable - in fact, if your works are 10cm apart from each other, you'll want them to be 20cm from a corner so the edges of the artworks don't get lost.
The height in which they hang is also incredibly important. The easiest way to do this is to pick a central line at eye level, at say 1.6m from floor level, an have the middle of each artwork sit at this level, But then there are so many different ways to do this, you can follow rules or you can intentionally break them. Just make sure you're either consistent, or are breaking the rules for an aesthetic reason.
So you use a pencil and tape measure to mark out where the works will hang. (Check out my blog post on hanging artworks here for more info). Then you'll put the hooks up in the hanging system and move them horiontally to sit over your mencil mark, and using the allen key move the hook itself to the height of the pencil mark. Or, you'll screw in the picture hook if there isn't a hanging system.
Step back, have a look, and make any changes necessary.
Once all the works are on the walls, use a spirit level to make sure they're all level. Don't bother doing this before hand, or you'' become super frustrated when you have to do it again because you've moved the works. Uuuurgh

Phase Five:
Lighting! Lighting in itself could have it's own blog post...  Hopefully when you were picking where to hang the works you factored in lighting, but if not don't worry too much. Go and grab a ladder, turn the track lights on and look at how the artworks are lit. Now turn the lights off, quickly because you don't want them to heat up, climb up the ladder, and move the track lights individually to light the artworks, You can either evenly light all the artworks, or be dramatic and use the lights to enhance the statement/s in the artworks. Don't forget any natural light that'll also be lighting the art.

Phase Six:
Almost done! Sweep the floor again, put the tools away, have a coffee, and put up your artwork labels. Place them in the same spot for each artwork, e.g. bottom right. These can be either the title, artist, medium and price of the artworks, or simply a number. Also place any other decals or installation stuff like the exhibit name, a plinth with a portfolio etc.

Phase Seven:
Unless you've already done the catalog, print and create the catalog then come back and place them in the exhibit space. Then, go and get ready for the opening! Or have a wine. You've earned it.

Woohoo! So that's Bump-In. Bump out is pretty much taking the works off the walls/wrapping them/taking them home, finalising any sales, and cleaning the space so it's back to what it looked like before the exhibit.


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I need another coffee.....