How do you rehang an entire art gallery?

An art gallery with pink walls, displaying a range of portraiture

We’ve recently reopened Gallery 1 at the Hunterian Art Gallery after a full rehang. The final displays are the culmination of work that started back in 2021 – on hold until life after lockdown could begin again.

Ruth Leach, Exhibition Manager at The Hunterian, reflects on what we’ve been working on over the last couple of months behind closed doors. Just what sort of work goes into a rehang or exhibition project at an art gallery?

Selecting objects for the rehang

While we were closed to the public and our exhibition plans kept changing, we asked ourselves: what might the Gallery look like if we had the chance to empty the walls and start again?

This blog won’t give an exhaustive answer to the whole rehang process – it’s mostly things that I remembered to take photos of while work was underway! But hopefully this gives a bit of insight into what an exhibition project looks like before you come to see it as a visitor.

One of the biggest jobs was selecting the objects that would eventually make it on to display. This was led by the curators for the project, Lola Sanchez-Jauregui and Joseph Sharples. Once we had a shortlist together (which was still quite long…) we used a scale model of the Gallery to refine our ideas for the rehang.

The project team tried out different versions of hangs and discussed what we thought could work. An important aim of the rehang was to display works that either hadn’t been shown before, or that hadn’t been seen for a long time.

A scale model of an art gallery used for planning the look and flow of new art exhibitions.
Before the rehang took place, visualising the finished gallery was really important!
An ink print on paper in three parts showing a human figure.
Conservation in action: remounting the Nude Triptych.

In some cases, this meant that we needed to carry out some conservation. With a print by Colin Self, the work was unframed, remounted and then put back into its original frame which had been adapted to include some spacers so that the paper wasn’t pressed against the glass. Conservation is always a great chance to see works in more detail than when they are framed or on display – like the signature and editioning on the reverse of Nude Triptych.

We also spent time making some short films about the themes and concepts explored throughout the Gallery rehang. They were filmed in different locations, such as the collections store and the art gallery itself. It was really interesting capturing further insight about some of the artwork on display with our team of curators. The films are being played throughout the Gallery, and you can also watch them using our Bloomberg Connects app.

Reinventing the space

While all this preparatory work happened out of sight, the most obvious sign of the changes to come was after closing the Gallery in February. The first job was to deinstall all the existing objects. As space is always limited, we had to make use of A-frames and ‘toast racks’ for temporarily storing works, made by our fantastic in-house team of technicians.

As well as thinking about the content of the displays, practical matters had to be considered for the rehang. What would fit and where? Which spaces were blacked out to natural light? And where were the plug sockets?!

Selecting objects goes hand in hand with thinking about the design of the space, and especially what build might be needed for display. Here, we’re looking at porcelain tea wares to assess what kind of mounts were needed, the dimensions of shelving and how many items we can fit in the planned display.

When reimagining the Gallery, we wanted the new colour scheme to be more eye-catching, to help make our works sing. We tried out a couple of options once the walls were empty. Some were a bit too bold that didn’t quite make the cut!

Once the decorating was complete, the time came to start putting the gallery back together again. It’s always a bit of a magic moment when things that have only existed on a computer screen suddenly appear in real life.

Putting everything together

Our brilliant Collections Management team worked across the Gallery to pack, move and install an amazing range of items. Another aim of the rehang was that we would display objects from across our varied collection, not just ‘art’. As with conservation work, installation means getting to see a different side to objects – sometimes literally. I absolutely love the ‘Alla Universita Di Glasgow’ on the back of Burri’s Ciclo II.

We wanted to make the amazing collections and wonderful spaces more meaningful to more people. The artworks are therefore presented under themes such as ‘What Makes a Portrait?’, ‘Colour and Light, Art and Science’ and ‘Art Across Borders’.

Looking from new perspectives, the displays ask: How do art and history influence each other? What can one picture tell us? What counts as art? How are artworks made?

The icing on the cake for me is always when graphics go in – they really bring each space together. For the rehang, each graphic offered a chance to introduce these new themes, new ideas and ask our visitors questions about what they were seeing.

Eventually, it’s time to set the lighting, sweep the floor, clear away the tools. Finally, a Gallery emerges!

Ruth Leach, Exhibition Manager, The Hunterian

About the Art Gallery rehang

The Hunterian Art Gallery frames questions about how art and art galleries can be more meaningful to more people.

The art on display includes works by Whistler and Mackintosh, Rembrandt and Rubens, the Glasgow Boys and Scottish Colourists, as well as leading contemporary artists.

It also features a significant number of artworks made by artists who have been less well represented. 25 female artists are represented, including: Bessie MacNicol, Phoebe Traquair, Joan Eardley, Victoria Dubourg, Helen Frankenthaler, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky and Christine Borland.

An empty gallery with black walls, wooden floor and white ceiling
Before and after!

Works on view for the first time include Gouffres Amers (1939) by English surrealist artist Ithell Colquhoun, Memories of the Sea (1936) by Josephine Haswell Miller, The Puppet Maker (1978) by James Cumming, and a rare, possibly unique impression of the print Sunday Afternoon (1941) by African American artist Dox Thrash.

The displays also highlight a number of works that have not been on view for a number of years including Boite d’Allumettes (1963) by French Haitian artist Herve Telemaque, Sea Devil’s Watchtower (1960) by Alan Davie, one of Scotland’s most important modernist painters, and A Paris Street by Scottish Colourist Samuel John Peploe.

Also featured are artworks that have undergone intense conservation, giving them a new lease of life, such as John Hoyland’s 18-6-69.

Stay up to date with all things Hunterian via our blog. We’ll have more features about the Art Gallery rehang in the coming weeks and months – as well as stories from right across our collections!

2 responses to “How do you rehang an entire art gallery?”

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