1% of Art - A Random Sample from the Permanent Collection
January 10, 2006 – April 9, 2006
As the Beach Museum of Art began a major renovation and expansion, the staff focused closely on the permanent collection and its relocation to temporary storage spaces within the building. To prepare for this move, we conducted an inventory of art work in the collection, as we do at regular intervals. This inventory inspired the upcoming exhibition, “1% of Art,” which featured fifty-five works from the museum’s collection in the Hempler and Vanier galleries from January 10 to April 9, 2006. The exhibition’s fifty-five objects comprised one-percent of the museum’s holdings of approximately 5,500 objects. The checklist for “1% of Art” was randomly generated by computer from information in the museum’s collection management database. Visitors to the exhibition got a glimpse of our routine behind-the-scene activities and might even be surprised by the varied nature of our collection when viewing this unconventional exhibition.
The genesis for “1% of Art” was a staff discussion about the registrar’s annual inventory. A clever comment was made about the ease of having the computer select objects at random for an exhibition and having the office of the registrar oversee the project. The office of the registrar completes two types of inventories, an annual spot inventory of one-percent of the collection, on which this exhibition is modeled, and a full audit conducted every five years. The goal of the comprehensive audit is to locate and account for every object in the collection, and to update location records, correct inaccuracies in cataloging, and identify objects for conservation. The purpose of the annual one-percent inventory is to check the accuracy of our location records, and in this year’s case, to develop an exhibition.
To organize the exhibition, a random list of one-percent of the collection was generated by computer from a complete listing of objects in the collection. One condition was placed on the random sample that deviates from the usual annual one-percent inventory: An individual artist could only be represented with a single work. This decision was made to produce a more balanced sample and a broader selection of items. By following this guideline, every artist would have an equal chance to be chosen, and certain artists whose work is predominant in the collection, such as John Steuart Curry, Charles L. Marshall, Sr., and John F. Helm, Jr., would not skew and dominate the results. Without the influence of a curatorial agenda or museum mission, the selection became a matter of luck. Traditionally when exhibitions are organized, the curator puts a great deal of thought into selecting objects for display. The curator might, in fact, look through hundreds of pieces in order to select a small grouping to put in the gallery. Criteria may include determining which pieces are in the best condition, which are most representative of an artist’s particular style, which are most compatible with others being shown, or which pieces best express the themes and the concerns of the exhibition. As part of the selection process, many hours of research are invested into trying to accurately present information in labels and text panels. This basic information includes the artist’s name, nationality, birth/death dates, the title of the piece, when it was made, what materials were used, and how the museum came to acquire it. Beyond that, it is often of interest to explain the significance of the piece in an extended label.
We considered the difficulty in developing a cohesive presentation from an assortment of random objects from our holdings, but determined the benefit of organizing such a show was worth the effort. Presenting a seemingly incompatible mix of objects forces us to think about them in different ways. We hope this exhibition will provide new insight into our collection and an opportunity to demonstrate variety within our holdings. Among the objects included in the exhibition are: Utagawa Kunisada (Japan, 1786-1864), untitled panel of polyptych (four actors in a kabuki scene), 1820s, a color woodcut with embossing; Robert Julius Brawley (United States, born 1937), Self Portrait, Drawing , 1990, a lithograph; Alfredo Zalce (Mexico, born 1908), Lumber Workers , from Mexican People , 1947, a color lithograph; and, Barbara Waterman-Peters (United States, born 1944), MWS 250: The Wailing , 1996, an oil on canvas.