Awakening Gallery Spaces

Sonja Reid is the exhibition and collections coordinator at AGBS. She has a background in bookbinding, conservation of library and archival materials, and museum registration. She is originally from the Boston-area and has made her home in Austin for more than 15 years. In her own words she describes how the galleries come alive.

As I work from home, I miss the physical space of the galleries. Three moments stand out for me with every exhibition installation, and I’ll miss experiencing them this summer.

The first: When the gallery space is completely empty, freshly painted, with new walls in place. This is when I experience the space as pure potential—as a canvas ready for the curator’s choices. Until this point in the process, I focus on arranging logistics. So this is when the abstract starts to become real.

The second: When Zane, AGBS’s Lead Preparator, and I unwrap the incoming artworks. I’ve usually seen small images of the works beforehand, and this is the first time I get to experience the actual works close-up. Since I have to check the condition of each work carefully, I spend time getting to know each piece, seeing the artist’s process, and noticing all the details that you just can’t see in a tiny photo. This is when I feel the impact and power of the individual pieces: it feels like a private introduction. For example, as we installed the photographs of In their Own Form, in the Christian Green Gallery, I was particularly struck by the Modisakeng piece, Endabeni 1: I could feel the vibrant, contained energy radiating off of it, to the point that the hairs pricked on the back of my neck.

In this moment, the gallery feels as though it has awoken from a long sleep, and it feels fully alive again.

And the third (and my favorite moment): When the AGBS team trains the gallery attendants on the new exhibition. My part of this is usually short and sweet, pointing out the artworks that may need some extra special attention or monitoring. But then I get to hear the dialog and discovery that Kendyll, AGBS’s Education Coordinator, elicits about the exhibition—making connections and pointing out details I might not have seen. This moment brings the exhibition’s narrative to my attention. I get to hear the observations, the interest, the excitement of the gallery attendants, and that’s when experiencing the exhibition becomes a community event. In this moment, the gallery feels as though it has awoken from a long sleep, and it feels fully alive again.

We’re planning ahead to Spring of 2021, and I look forward to going through this cycle of moments again. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing you in the galleries, making the exhibition come alive again this fall.