Rainmaker Gallery: Installing a show – the mechanics behind the magic

Forget about the cool elegance we all associate to gallery spaces! When it comes to the big task of installing an exhibition, think more along the lines of: hammers, nails, rulers, spirit levels, and so on…  Earlier this month, at Rainmaker Gallery, on the agenda we had the changeover from the Summer exhibition (which I wrote about here and here) to Native Color, which will run until Spring 2018. Over the course of the installation procedure, I took a few snapshots, to share with you here on ‘Hart’.

Day 1

fullsizeoutput_8b0As I walk through the door, already in my mind I’m rehearsing the steps we need take: former show off the wall, polyfilla in the nail holes, repaint the walls… But the artwork, fresh from the framers, is just too good to be left in its packaging for long. So, no sooner have we taken the previous works down, then we unwrap each pictures with all the enthusiasm of Christmas day. Being the first to set eyes on a work completed by its frame is, I must admit, one of the most special moments of working in a gallery!


‘Back to back! Front to front!’

Next, we place the works in a line along the walls, almost like lively school children, all chattering together in vibrant colours. Referring to a layout plan prepared the week prior, we check to see they actually do work well side-by-side. After shifting a few around, suddenly – click! – they slot into place, and their bright colours suddenly turn from chatter into brilliant harmony. We make a note of their position, then remove them all to one corner, rigorously “Back to back! Front to front!” as Jo reminds me. This way, they won’t accidentally damage each other.fullsizeoutput_8c0

Now, the old nails have to come out, in all their various shapes and sizes, and the resulting holes are to be filled with polyfilla. Next, off with the old vinyls. Finally, I paint my first wall, ever! Sporting a smart decorator’s uniform, and getting completely covered in white spatters, I discover an hidden love for the art of the paint roller. As Jo said to me a while back, preparing a gallery for a rehang just makes you instantly want to redecorate your home from top to bottom as well…

Sporting one flattering decorator’s t-shirt to touch-up the gallery walls.
The maths before the hanging.

Back from our walk round the block to let the paint dry, we get down to the business of working out the height at which to place the pictures. Base-line hang or centre hang, that is the question! Because the works are similar but not identical in size, Jo opts for a centre hang. Calculator in hand, we work out the maths of where to hammer each nail into the wall – base of largest picture plus half picture’s height plus half picture’s height minus drop of tying cord. And that’s the first frame ready to go! I’ll admit that, by the final two canvases, my mind is so boggled I hang them completely crooked and off-centre. Jo decides to call it quits for the day…

Day 2

Jo rearranges the Pendleton blankets to fit with the artwork.

The beautiful scent of piñon wood incense greets me as I step into the gallery, completing the good work of my morning coffee in getting me ready for part two of the installation. Today the vinyls will be stuck on the wall, “professionally” I am pleased to add after my failure with the canvases yesterday evening. Once the vinyls are in place, the show really starts to come together. Of course, the little signs to go under each work are still to be made (that’s a task of mine today) but with the big title ‘Native Color’ overhead, Jo and I start to really get excited about this new exhibition.


Handed with a small collection of tools – spray-mount, cutting knife, board, double-sided tape – I set about preparing the title signs. Having been eloquently handed a ruler, I make sure to stick them 10 cm under the right corner of each frame. Now it’s time to shrink rap the prints for the browser. Here, for once, I get to make good use my passion for rapping presents, dreaded by friends and relations who have to grapple with my airtight gifts. This is one unlikely skill you’re never told could be of good use in a working environment!

A selection of spirit levels, with an all-important bundle of sage.
Jo checks the lighting.

Finally, to really get this show up and running, the lighting needs to be sorted.
Ladder out, Jo climbs up with a protective cloth for her hands and sets about redirecting each bulb to shine on a specific work. From down below, I call up: “A bit more to the right! Now up! Yep, that’s perfect!”. Once back with her feet on solid ground, Jo and I take a step back to admire the works. If they were bright before, now they look positively pulsating with colour, as their motifs weave in and out of each other. The overall effect is absolutely breathtaking!

Note that all I’ve written about in this post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preparing an exhibition. I haven’t touched on the many other things that make it come together, such as the planning, the publicising, the writing of the vinyl text, or even the very foundational moment of building a relationship with the artist and acquiring the works. I’d love to write about all these here on ‘Hart’ as well, but it’ll have to be for another time. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a bit more insight on the hands-on side of preparing a show! And, if you’re in Bristol, definitely go and take a peak at the exhibition Native Color at Rainmaker Gallery



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s