When a hush falls over UNLV’s Maryland Parkway campus during winter break, the staff of the Marjorie Barrick Museum work furiously to remake the space. This year the staff was transitioning between the celebrated photography show Edward Burtynsky: Oil and a vastly different large-scale exhibit Process, scheduled to open soon after the spring semester started.
Meanwhile, the Braunstein Room at the back of the main gallery would house Masking, an ambitious arrangement of traditional Mexican masks and contemporary art curated by English professor Karen Roop. There also would be an exhibition of Salvador Dali prints and films coordinated by art history undergraduate Lee Cannarozzo and a collection of historical Barrick artifacts celebrating the museum's 50-year anniversary organized by Allen Linnabary, a graduate student in history.
Fresh promotional materials had to be designed and paperwork needed to be completed. Communications flew back and forth between Las Vegas and Southern California, home to many of the artists who would appear in Process. Their work came in different media — screenprinting, ceramics, sculpture, collage, and painting. Attention had to be paid to how and where they would be displayed. The powerful contrast between the eclecticism of Process and the single-artist cohesion of Oil had been planned for months.
Barrick staff armed with clipboards carried out routine examinations of Burtynsky's giant photographs, searching for any damage that might have occurred while they were on display. Works at the Barrick are always meticulously inspected before they go on the walls and checked again when they are removed. This is one of the many hidden museum jobs that the public never gets to see.
The human beings looked small and intense, craning forward in front of the dark landscapes in the huge photographs.
The different jobs that the Barrick demands are extraordinarily varied. The person writing a grant proposal at 10 a.m. could be the same individual who helps to load an 800-pound crate onto a truck at two in the afternoon.
Interim Director Alisha Kerlin gathers her small team every morning to coordinate their invisible but necessary activities. There are public roles, too, such as giving tours and hosting artist evenings.
"There's a group from Henderson arriving at 12:30," she says. "Who is going to meet them?"
Unplanned interruptions abound. An important meeting with a curator is followed by the news that a light bulb in the main gallery suddenly needs to be replaced. A tourist from Arizona reveals that Marjorie Barrick herself was one of her great-aunts.
The transitions between shows bring new duties and opportunities on top of the usual ones. Small changes lead to ramifications. Consider wall labels. In past shows, the museum hung a label next to each artwork, but in the months leading up to Process they decided that labels would be set aside in favor of booklets with lists of titles, artists, and images.
These booklets offered more in depth information about the art and served as souvenirs for people to take away with them.
But new approaches bring many more questions. What would the booklets look like? How should each work be credited? Staff members scoured the museum's databases, making sure that they had the right donor information for each of the 60-plus objects that would appear in Masking.
On a chair to one side, Lee Cannarozzo was sending emails about a recital of Dante's Divine Comedy that would accompany Dali's illustrations for the text.
Linnabary stood back from a framed newspaper article dated 1979. "Is that straight?" He adjusted it again.
Other 50th anniversary events would be planned throughout the year. Future shows and collaborations were already in the works. Questions for the fall show waited to be answered. The opening reception for the shows would be a celebration but not a pause. The Barrick's work went on.