July 22, 2008

ART:WORK::SFMOMA Staff Art Exhibition 2008

Last Friday here at the SFMOMA, we celebrated the opening of one of the most highly anticipated exhibitions of the year: the SFMOMA Staff Art Exhibition. In a city where every cab driver is a filmmaker and every filmmaker is a musician is a writer is an artist is an installation crew member, it should come as no surprise that the SFMOMA staff has more than its share of serious artists of all kinds of media and practice. Now in its thirteenth iteration, this year’s exhibition includes 103 artists—twenty-five percent of the staff of the museum. The show takes up four floors of our administrative offices: two in the main building and two in the annex across the street. There’s a lot of great work and it’s fun to get to see what people make and do in their off-hours. Not to play favorites, but who in a cubicle doesn’t covet 1st Private Office Cube? More pictures, of the opening party, and some installation shots, here. Don’t miss the Simon Blint, 76 and Counting. It’s a bit derivative I suppose, but fine work nevertheless.

Each year a different curatorial team of staff volunteers organizes the show. This year’s curators were Megan Brian, Development Assistant, Heather Holt, SECA Coordinator, and Erica Gangsei, Interpretation Associate. I caught up with Megan & Erica for a little curatorial Q&A:

Congratulations! And thank you for all your hard work putting the exhibition together. Can you give me a curatorial statement about this year’s SFMOMA staff art show? What is the exhibition called?

We really wanted a title that would refer to the role that the staff plays within the museum, but also the hours of labor that staff puts in outside the museum on their own art. We had a few ideas for titles, such as Make It Work (which we got from the TV show “Project Runway”) and My Museum (which we bogarted from the Media Arts department). Ultimately, we went with ART:WORK because it calls to mind both the “art work” one does as a museum professional and the artwork that one creates as a practicing artist.

Is it true that only SFMOMA Staff are eligible to submit work to the SFMOMA Staff Art Exhibition?

It is true, only SFMOMA staff can submit work to the SFMOMA Staff Art Exhibition. However, we define staff pretty broadly in this case. We accept work from regular staff, on-call staff, volunteers, docents, interns, and contracted employees.

Will you describe the submission and selection process?

We accepted all submissions from staff as long as their piece met installation and size requirements, so there wasn’t really a selection process. Everyone who wanted to contribute a piece submitted a form a month before the show with all the relevant details, and one week before the opening (almost) everyone dropped off their work. We then spent a few days really getting to know each piece and placing the work in the offices. The staff show takes place on four floors: two in the museum building and two in our Minna annex office building.

An interesting phenomenon occurs once the works are placed for the staff art show — people assume that they can “read” the placement of works as a value judgment. Some might think that more notable work might be placed near the Director’s and Curators’ offices and that, therefore, an artwork’s worth can be measured by how near or far it is. From the beginning we, as the curators for this show, rejected that premise. Every staff member and department plays an equally integral role in this institution. No one department is more important than another and no workspace is more prestigious than another. Simply put, there is no so-called “bad placement” for artwork in the staff art show.

How is this SFMOMA Staff Art Exhibition different than exhibitions in previous years?

We wanted to take a more green approach than in the past. Usually there are lots of posters around, announcing the show and all artwork is submitted on printed forms. This year we used email and the SFMOMA intranet to announce the show and post electronic submission forms. We were worried that we might not reach as many people through these channels, but in the end we had a whopping 103 artists submit work. This was actually the largest turnout ever in SFMOMA Staff Art Exhibition history!

What were some of the challenges and rewards of organizing the SFMOMA Staff Art Exhibition? What was the most surprising? The most enjoyable?

This year was the 13th annual staff art exhibition, and we’ve been joking that it was the cursed year. The night before artwork drop off, one curator got into a bike accident and dislocated her finger, making it difficult to handle art. Another curator had to have an emergency appendectomy the week of installation. The third remaining curator is still intact, but is doing her best to avoid all potentially hazardous situations for the duration of the exhibition.

But “Curse of the 13th Staff Art Show” aside, organizing this year’s exhibition has been truly rewarding. It was a lot of work on our side, especially when you consider that we were doing our regular full-time jobs in addition to the responsibility of curating the show. But it really was a huge team effort. Between Human Resources who planned the opening reception, the Installation crew who hung the whole show, and the 103 artists who spent countless hours actually creating all the spectacular artwork, this exhibition is truly a endeavor that is brought together by the SFMOMA staff as a whole. In the end, the biggest reward for us is to see the community that is created by this opportunity to share in the exceptional range of talent here at SFMOMA.

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