Our intern, Michele, checked out the new exhibition at the Crow Collection of Asian Art before it opened at an Arts District Behind the Scenes tour. She later went on to view the final product at the member’s preview.
There is an aphorism in the art world that the untrained observer is most often unable to detect good design; the flaws are what make the casual viewer pause to take a critical, second look. Director of exhibitions Johnny Robertson at the Crow Collection of Asian Art builds his profession around this unwritten principle. At a special Behind the Scenes event, Johnny gave several members of the Arts District and myself an insight into what it takes to prepare a space for exhibition. In this case, he was getting ready for Impermanent Beauty, a collection of black and white photographs by local Chinese artist Ka Yeung, which was to be placed in LinkAsia, the newly dedicated gallery space at the Crow. Robertson is responsible for creating the seamless environment that houses the Crow’s many exhibitions.
Mr. Robertson begins planning the space after getting a list of the work that is complete with size dimensions. Most often, he has only a small timeframe to execute a unique, new composition, as his group must always work around the Collection’s schedule. Laughingly, he admits that he looks at his calendar several times a day to keep everything on track. The previous exhibition had been taken down the day before, and already members of Johnny’s work team were beginning to mold the room for Ka Yeung’s opening.
For Impermanent Beauty a contemporary, neutral look was necessary, maximizing all available wall space. The gallery looked like a half-finished room at a construction site, with plaster spotted walls and dust-covered floors when we walked in. Among the renovations, our attention was first directed towards the fabrication of two new walls. The east wall was in place to cover a set of glass cases that presumably held sculptures, while the west wall was placed over a set of windows. I think most people would agree with me when I say that the background walls are probably the last thing anyone would pay attention to when looking at a piece, but their construction and placement deserves recognition when mentioning the space’s logical flow. Another important renovation that most viewers won’t pay much attention to is the chosen lighting concept, unless it becomes a distraction. The majority of light in the gallery comes from track lighting high above the space. Working to minimize cast shadows is among the most tedious lighting challenges exhibition directors consistently face.
Overall, although I am a visual artist that has been through similar processes in the past, the amount of detail that goes into designing spaces for prominent galleries such as the Crow went beyond my prior knowledge and was very enlightening for me. My anticipation to see the final results at Ka Yeung’s preview opening grew as the Behind the Scenes tour concluded.
A little over a week after the tour, Impermanent Beauty opened for the member’s preview, and I was able take a look around at the finished product. If anyone has been to the Crow Collection, they know it is like leaving Dallas and stepping into a tranquil sanctuary. The room adjacent to Yeung’s exhibit holds sculptures dating back to the 11th century, and they peaked the interest my guest, who is studying geography and anthropology in her undergraduate work. After conversing about several of the pieces, we moved on to view the subject of the night.
After the Behind the Scenes tour, I couldn’t help but take a close look at Mr. Robertson’s renovations to the room. I’m happy to say that, as expected, the room looked great! The new walls were clean and seamless and the lighting concept created an inviting, yet intimate atmosphere. I got a good sense that the room was well balanced, as several of Yeung’s photographs were of different shapes (square or rectangle) and sizes.
Ka Yeung’s black and white photographs provide an apparent contrast between modernity and the aged natural space around it. For example, several photographs give a picture of the Yangtze River before part of it became a dam. There are also photographs that were printed on scroll, bridging a modern technique with an ancient Chinese tradition. While in several of the images the industrial components seemed to overpower the natural, the photographs I found to be most interesting showed the inevitability of a regression back to nature. In these photographs, the natural geological processes overtook the manmade presence.
If you are interested in any of these themes or you just enjoy looking at black and white photography, this is definitely an exhibit to spend an hour checking out. If you work near the Arts District, sneak out of the office on your lunch break and walk over.
Ka Yeung: China Impermanent Beauty Photography 1996-97 will be at the Crow Collection of Asian Art through Sunday, May 16th. Daily admission is always FREE.