I began my time in the Education Department of the Birmingham Museum of Art by auditing every label in the first-floor galleries. The Museum is currently trying to write new style guide standards with better design and nomenclature for their object labels. I started by researching current best practices in exhibition labels before moving on to creating floor plans of all the galleries to provide a visual overview of the current labels. The Museum has undergone numerous renovations and re-installations of the permanent collection throughout the years, so some gallery labels have widely different levels of language. The newly re-installed Dutch gallery has really nice signage and language, so we would love to get the other galleries in line with this new standards.
A section of the floor plans that I made can be seen below. We hope to use the aerial view to better understand the spread of the objects and ideal panel locations. Another component of this project is tracking the locations of all the smartguide stops, indicated with small smart-phone symbols. Another document contains notes for each gallery such as alternate locations for section panels, typical length of each label, clarity of language, suggestions, etc. Overall, I really enjoyed the amount of time I got to spend in the galleries reading labels and looking at objects. Understanding how labels have changed over time is a major part of my interest in exhibition histories. For example, the object medium used to be at the bottom of the label in small text (after the credit line!) but is now forefronted after the artist’s name. This change could be seen as an increase in interest from the general public and museum professionals in the materiality of the object.
As soon as I wrapped up the floor plans and accompanying notes, teachers from schools around Birmingham began bringing in student works for Youth Art Month. The annual exhibition gives teachers an opportunity to recognize their students’ works by submitting works to hang in the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Burrow Education Gallery. The turnaround was quick – I only had about half a week to frame about 60 works and get the information I needed for the labels. The installation reminded me a lot of orchestrating the layout for the Auburn’s Biggin Gallery during the annual Juried Student Shows. With so many different works of different skill levels, it is critical to hang the show in a way that lets each object feel important. I was exhausted at the reception, but the kiddos were happy.