„Art critics believe that every detail of a show is the result of a curator. They think the exhibition looks the way it does because the curator intended it that way.“
This is how Julia Voss introduced her presentation „Backstage – what viewers shouldn’t find out“ last Friday. Her presentation’s title goes well with the European Registrars Conference (ERC) which took place in Vienna’s Hofburg from June 8th through June 10th. The conference is addressed to exhibition managers and registrars: to those who work behind the scenes rather than on stage. To those who’re invisible to the visitors. To those who’re responsible for the entire organization of a show, – from loan inquiries to insurance contracts, transportation, installation, and packing up.
Following an initiative by the ARC – Austrian Registrars Committee ,- founded in 2012, exhibition managers and registrars have now convened in Vienna to attend the conference that takes place every two years, in different European capitals. The goal is to create networks, to set standards, and of course to create professional training programs. Exhibition managers and registrars usually haven’t received any specific professional training. Events that focus on collaboration and an exchange of knowledge therefore become all the more important. Because registrars represent an intersection between restoration, storage, transportation, and insurances- details the job listing at Vienna’s Mumok. The profession thus requires the registrar to be familiar with different areas, as well as rights and risks. In addition, registrars are in charge of the archive, and are also involved with collection research. Also, the ongoing digitalization constantly requires new knowledge as well as innovation. No wonder why 700 participants attended the conference – among them participants from the National Museum of Art or the City University of Hong Kong.
The leitmotif, the red thread throughout Julia Voss’ conference was the question whether the spectator needs to know what happens in the background. Her answer was very clear: Yes, they have to! However, while exhibition managers and registrars make a real effort to make their activities transparent and to inform about their jobs, Voss’ focus were the transparency of loans and even more importantly, the transparency of loan givers. The center of her presentation was the public communication of loans, information which is both of difficult access and at the same time relevant for her work as a journalist, and not so much the visibility of the employees who work behind the scenes. This information is relevant because it shows intertwining connections and criteria that play an important role in the selection and staging of works. It also (at least partially) answers questions regarding external financing and sponsors.
Much more concrete or specific was Harald Krämer’s presentation: „Use and re-use of Data. How Registrars impact the Future of Museums “. The Associate Professor of Hong Kong’s City University shows what can be done with high resolution data: for example how paintings can be experienced in 360°. All this with the help of different tools that allow the viewer to zoom in picture details. Even animations of the works can be created – though the latter sounds more like movie theater and entertainment than a serious contemplation of art.
Also very interesting was the talk by Jennifer Hefner, the co-founder of Articheck, an app that makes it substantially faster to create updated reports on a work’s condition and also offers a series of other interesting features. Even more interesting at first sight was her retrospective: what did condition reports look like in the past? From first handwritten notes and hard-to-read black and white copies that after a fax transmission don’t reveal much about a work’s condition. To today’s digital possibilities, that allow a quick exchange between experts. PDFs represented a true revolution for the registrars’ activity. Different from today’s, they weren’t interactive. Her own needs, the lack of sufficient tools for condition reports, impulsed Hefner to create Articheck. She claims that with the app, a condition report that would otherwise require 45 minutes, can now be done in 10 minutes. A crucial difference. What still remained unclear at the end of her presentation, were the costs attached to Articheck. Because after her interesting retrospective, Hefner’s talk focuses on the marketing of Articheck. After all, the 700 ERC participants are potential clients. The company’s website offers monthly subscriptions with different conditions. The subscriptions are limited in quantity though, to 50 or 100 condition reports per month. Unlimited access for three employees costs $ 300 per month and requires a one-year contract. In comparison, even Adobe’s monthly subscription looks pretty affordable. After ten years, a company has already paid a proud $ 33.000,- for the program – the price of a nice car. According to founder Hefner, the saved work time nonetheless allows the company to save a lot of money. Independently, the talk shows how registrars work. What information they need about a work, and what information they exchange with colleagues.
After a series of other presentations with different focuses, such as for instance „Art and the Law“, different workshops were taught. All this technology and the high volume of data exchange, also brings risks. The workshop „Cybercrime in the Art World“ discussed these challenges. The international guests were offered field trips to kunsttrans, hs art service and to the Leopold Museum.
ERC – EUROPEAN REGISTRARS CONFERENCE
The Austrian Registrars Committee ARC – Austrian Registrars Committee has organized the ERC – European Registrars Conference, which was held at the Hofburg in Vienna from 8th-10th June 2016.