The Registration department in the DIA was pretty boring. It looks much like the third floor—grey, with cubicles… but more filing cabinets. I’m sure they keep all of the really interesting stuff hidden.
Today, I worked mostly on the 125th Anniversary project. Michelle (a registration intern and part-time Public Programs staffer) and I took an extended tour of the museum, choosing and eliminating artworks to be reproduced and placed around the greater metro Detroit area. I’ve really enjoyed working on this project. Most of the businesses have been enthusiastic about participating—which is a good start—and it’s been fun to discuss the paintings and why they should go where. It’s also been interesting to be in on planning the assembly and installation (selecting the materials and installation hardware, etc.). I don’t know much about that kind of thing, which I think is why it’s been so fascinating.
Michelle knows a lot more about art than I do (which isn’t difficult) so I enjoyed touring the galleries with her this afternoon and hearing her thoughts about which paintings are most important, which best represent our collection and why some paintings are better suited for certain areas than others. I can’t wait to audit Intro to Art History next semester… I’ve been faking my way though art museums for far too long.
Michelle also had some other keen insights for me, and answered a few questions I had about the museum. For example, some paintings are under glass, while others are not. I studied these paintings a while, and could not find a pattern. One Renoir is covered, while others are not, etc. Michelle says that this is handled by the Conservation department (not Registration, as I had guessed) and those paintings with glass over them are the paintings most likely to be touched (the Van Goghs!) and those needing extra protection (Degas’ pastels). I was satisfied with that answer for the most part—but I find it hard to believe that the Caravaggios don’t warrant a glass covering.
Yet all of this led me to another question: How many museums have a separate Conservation department?
I had previously thought that a lot of the conservation is handled by the registrar. I have to imagine that in a larger museum, like the DIA, that separate departments are more typical. But I am also wondering if it is more common for museums that have older collections. Perhaps a museum of contemporary art has less need for conservation tactics? Is it that a Caravaggio needs more upkeep and care than a Warhol (at least for the moment)?
I sent an email to University of Florida professor and past Registrar, Dixie Nielson for her opinion. She wrote the book on registration, so I’ll be interested to hear her insights.