Today’s post comes from Margaret Vetare, the Art Center’s Coordinator of Public Education and Information.
It’s a poignant predicament: when museum preparators have done their job flawlessly, that’s when their hard work is least likely to be noticed in a museum gallery. All framed works hang true and evenly. Labels are just the right distance from the works they describe. Freestanding works are stable and secure. Lighting is thoughtfully angled. In short, everything looks just as it should, so nothing calls to mind the ladders climbed, the countless screws screwed, the measurements calculated more than twice, the sometimes-massive framed canvases delicately maneuvered into place.
Meet FLLAC’s preparator Bruce Bundock, for whom these tasks and many more are all in a day’s work. In addition to installing and de-installing objects in the galleries, he also prepares and packs works of art for travel, creates appropriate housing for objects in storage, designs and builds frames, and works closely with the curators and registrars on the movement of objects from one location to another in the museum. As part of the collections management team, Bruce’s role entails coordination, accommodation, problem-solving, and the ability to transform ideas into final products.
The work is almost always time-sensitive. A loan object needs to be carefully packed and crated in a timely fashion so that it will arrive in time for the hosting institution to mount it for an exhibition. And special exhibitions here at the Art Center need to open when we’ve said they will open, even if this means staying late into the evening to hammer the final nail or attach the last labels to the wall. Bruce considers the ability to multi-task and turn on a dime—all while being a careful steward of the art—as part of a preparator’s job.
With so much at stake, Bruce is grateful for the help of the student assistants he hires through Vassar’s work-study program. One of those students is Laura Kinter, a senior with a double major in film and English. She has worked at the Art Center in various capacities since 2009 and with Bruce since 2011. She speaks with gusto about how much she loves the work, loves working with Bruce, and loves seeing a final product of her labor when a show goes up—being able to say “I hung that wall!” She has learned to frame works, hang paintings, move objects according to best practices, and troubleshoot problems. She revels in the creative challenge of creating something attractive with just a set number of materials (“How can I make this so that nobody knows how many screws are in it?”). And by her own admission, Laura’s really good at organization, and takes pleasure in creating organized work and storage spaces. She’s amazed that she has gained so many skills and been entrusted with so much responsibility in a work-study job.
Laura calls Bruce “a fantastic teacher, a great boss, and a great life coach, too.” Bruce has been working in the collections management department at the Art Center since 1992, bringing to the job the skills of a commercial framer, the academic knowledge of an M.A., and perhaps most important of all, the keen aesthetic sense and creative approach of an artist. He majored in fine art at Maryland Institute College of Art for his BFA, and for his liberal studies MA he wrote a thesis called “The Creative Process Across Occupational Domains.”
In addition to his work as a preparator, Bruce is an accomplished practicing artist whose works are in private and public collections. Here in Poughkeepsie, a solo show of his paintings is on view from September 20 through November 4 at Locust Grove, the Samuel F. B. Morse historic site, with an opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, September 27. Called “In and Out of Town: Land and Cityscapes,” Bruce says the show “is essentially about places that have caught my eye for reasons both aesthetic and documentary.” He says “My painting is a form of investigative reporting on light, form and content. I seek to elevate the ordinary by uncovering conditions that largely remain on the periphery of one’s attention.”
Bruce finds it fitting that he is exhibiting his art at the Morse site, because he senses a kindred spirit in the 19th-century inventor who was also an artist. Morse is of course better known now for the code that bears his name than for his painting. “Most artists,” Bruce says, “live hyphenated work lives.” But Bruce views his own two working roles as complementary—“One feeds the other,” he says, “and vice versa.” The last line of his artist’s statement for the Locust Grove show might just as easily apply to the work he does at the Art Center: “Even though I mostly work alone, I have always considered an exhibit to be a shared communication, hopefully touching something in the viewer’s own life experience.”
For more information about Bruce’s show and the reception on Thursday, see www.morsehistoricsite.org.