Museum Council

Katie Hanson, associate curator, Paintings, Art of Europe, explains why mounting an exhibition is an all-hands-on-deck effort.


How long does it take for an exhibition to go from an idea to opening night? What does that process look like?

There’s no one answer! Some major scholarly exhibitions with weighty catalogues take five years or more to bring to fruition. Other projects happen pretty quickly. “French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault,” for example, came together in six months. Well, that’s not entirely true; I had written up a proposal for the concept a few years ago, but I got the go-ahead to do it in late December of last year and it opened at the end of June. “Klimt and Schiele: Drawn” went from idea to opening in about a year.

Generally speaking, the process involves discussing the idea with Edward Saywell, our chief of exhibitions strategy and gallery displays, and then writing a concept proposal with key works or groupings. So, even before pitching the idea, there’s a lot of research that has to be done, which is vetted by a team of colleagues. Then there’s more research and fine-tuning once you know the project is a go. After the gallery and opening date have been decided, you work with colleagues across the Museum to deal with loans, conservation issues, exhibition design, press and marketing, interpretation, and more. It takes a huge team of staff to make an exhibition.

For the exhibition “French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault,” did the medium of pastels affect the length of the exhibition?

Yes. We worked with Annette Manick, head of paper conservation, to determine the duration of the exhibition based on the light sensitivity of the pastels.

How did the idea come about of dedicating an entire gallery to a single artist like Monet?

You’ll have to ask Matthew Teitelbaum, the MFA’s Ann and Graham Gund Director, for the genesis of that idea, but since you’re asking me: he came to me and said something to the effect that he understood we had a pretty astonishing collection of Monet paintings and wondered if that collection could be the basis of a dedicated gallery highlighting a strength of the permanent collection. My answer was yes, absolutely, this would be a beautiful, compelling space. Very quickly thereafter, I worked with Julia Welch, curatorial research fellow, Art of Europe, on a mock-up of how Gallery 252 might look if it were a dedicated Monet gallery; that mock-up was the basis of the first installation of the gallery, which opened in April 2016.

What is your favorite Council event?

In my third week as a curator at the MFA, I did a gallery talk on Impressionism and a dinner in Bravo with the Museum Council. Here I am, brand new in town, and the Council members made me feel so welcome as a Bostonian and an “MFA-er.” So that particular event holds a very special place in my heart, but Council events are always fun, so I don’t want to discount others like the Summer Party and the New York City trip!