Hanging Bite

So the big day arrived: Sunday 2nd September and it was time to hang the show. We had 243 works to get on the walls varying in size from tiny mezzotints to huge woodcuts, from lovely rich black etchings to bright colourful screenprints. The way we do this at the Mall Galleries is that the works are placed by the Hanging Committee (usually artists) and then put on the walls by the Mall’s technicians. The Hangers oversee the process and can change things if there is a problem, and remain responsible for how the show looks on the wall. It is an art in itself making sure that the show looks coherent and that all the works are placed to their best advantage.

 

We find that a small hanging committee works best, and this year I was assisted ably by Euan Stewart, one of our exhibiting artists, as my usual colleague Megan Fishpool was unavoidably absent. The first decision we had to make was how to hang the new Threadneedle Space. It has a quite different light to the Main Gallery: it is cooler and not as bright. As I had expected various works just ‘died’ in there, their colours became less vibrant and they just lost impact. We found that we were choosing works with an architectural bent in tune with what Euan described as the “industrial space” of the gallery. We also decided to hang it quite sparsely, as this seemed to be the best way to use its unique attributes.

 

All the works in the show had been put up against the walls of two of the galleries, unfortunately these were the Main and North Galleries, so we had a lot of walking around and carrying to do to bring the prints into the Threadneedle Space. I soon noticed that we were choosing a lot of monochrome works, and we then started looking for colourful works that would work in the lighting. When hanging the show we first place the ‘centres’ of the walls. These should be the largest and strongest works, and in the Threadneedle you only need one central piece per wall, whereas in the Main Gallery you need several to carry the eye along the length of the hang. Then you have to place the end pieces. Again they have to be strong, and preferably colourful (red is great), and they bring the wall to stop, giving the eye something to linger on. In between you hang the other prints, allowing the prints to play off against each other without overwhelming the quieter ones. This is a question of matching shapes and colours, bringing out similarities and echoing compositional elements; or choosing works which were totally different as the contrast can also work well. We had a great Barbara Rae, Vaucluse, for a main centre and we put a fantastic black woodcut, Research by Andy Cumming opposite.

 

We had the Threadneedle placed by 11:00, and moved onto the Main Gallery. I was worried that with only about 53 works in the Threadneedle we would be seriously short of space in the Main. We decided on and placed the ‘Centres’ on the main wall and then set about hanging the end wall in its entirety. All the time you hang you have the head technician very politely asking if you have a wall ready yet, so his team can get going. This just adds another layer of pressure: not only do you have to get it right, you have to do it quickly as well. The end wall has to have a lot of impact to ensure that visitors are enticed down to that end of the Galleries and away from the café. Once that was sorted we quickly finished the main wall, with a series of strong prints centred on Tom Hammick’s powerful Edgeland, and we turned our attention to the back wall. The technicians went to work hanging the two walls we had placed which gave us a bit of breathing space, and we then started to fit our remaining works onto the back wall with the two screens. This effectively breaks it up into three smaller walls, each u-shaped with the ends of the screens as separate entities. Euan was keen to tie them together by using a pair of large black prints and we then agonised about how many other prints to put there. Opposite Tom Hammick’s print we put Kevin O’Keefe’s wonderful Late afternoon on the hard shoulder… But still it was beginning to look as though we wouldn’t fit everything in, which would mean re-hanging some already fitted walls, not a pleasant prospect. By using every bit of space and being very careful with our placements we managed to fit every print in, without it looking too crowded. We finished placing the works at 3:30pm, so with a 30 minute break for lunch we had done it all in about six hours. They were all hung by 4:30 and I returned home exhausted to a well-earned scotch.

Simon Whittle

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