Michael Barclay (B.A. Art History '06), the director of exhibitions at Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art and Eskenazi Health collections manager, continues our series of guest-contributed stories reflecting on IUPUI's 50th anniversary with a lively account about working in the Galleries at Herron.
Being asked to share #MyIUPUI memories is a challenge. Do I share a story about being a student – both as an undergraduate student at Herron and a museum studies graduate student at the IU School of Liberal Arts? Or perhaps memories about being the assistant gallery director for the Herron galleries? Luckily, for sake of this story, working for the galleries is much more entertaining and there is an endless supply of material.
Working in the Galleries at Herron has left me with amazing memories, funny stories, and scars – some of them physical. I have always regarded my time at there as boot camp for museum professionals because of the number of exhibitions and artists I had to work with in such a short period of time. The galleries hold a special place in my heart. They are where I learned so much; broke a piece of art in shipping for the first time; gave Deborah Butterfield a private tour; and witnessed an important American artist deliver an obscene gesture during a talk.
While my time in the galleries was short, the impact on me has been gigantic. I joined the team through an internship with Paula Katz, Herron's gallery director at the time, and was immediately thrown to the sharks. My first task was to curate a show… and I knew nothing about curation, but with her guidance and some very generous drag queens, I curated my first show. It might have been a mess, but if you slap some glitter on it, people tend to be distracted by the shiny.
While working for an art gallery, I gained a serious appreciation for the stranger things in life, like my serious love affair with level tools or the ability to speak that weird hardware store language about screws and nails. I become a freak at being able to add and subtract fractions, even though artists are supposed to be terrible at math. I still hate math but, damn, I can work some numbers in my head while holding a four-foot level in one hand, a tape measure in the other, and a pencil in my mouth while ordering a sandwich. Lastly, could there be anything sexier than a perfectly hung grid of artwork?
A very important life lessons I learned in the galleries is to never panic even when facing the direst of moments because it's just artwork and no one is going to die… I think? Once, the main gallery flooded during install. None of the artwork was damaged, but the humidity and drying machines delayed the installation until the day of the artist's talk. Three hours before the show was to open to the public, the director, her assistant, and I stood in the gallery with about 50 printed artist labels. The last magnets were placed just as the artist's talk had reached the Q&A session. The show opened on time and no one knew how frantically fast the show was installed.