Owens takes visitors behind the scenes

Art gallery opens up painting vault and conservation lab for one night

The Owens welcomed students and locals to take a look inside areas regularly closed to the public. Aude Gazzano/Argosy

“Usually you see exhibitions and everything is on the wall and looking perfect,” said Jane Tisdale, the Owens Art Gallery’s fine arts conservator. “It’s nice to see where that came from: where they’re stored [and] what kind of work they’ve had done to get them prepared for the exhibition.”

Last week the Owens opened their doors to the public in a different light than usual. The conservation lab and painting vault, usually off-limits, were opened to guests of the gallery, showing visitors how much work is done behind the scenes, at Owens After Dark: A Nighttime Open House.

Guests wandered into the basement to visit the vault, where student guides described the work stored there, and to the lab, where the conservators explained the methods used to preserve artwork in the gallery.

“Opening up the behind-the-scenes areas of the Owens gives people a sense of ownership of this gallery and a greater sense of how an art gallery works, because there’s so much of the work that happens in a gallery that is invisible,” said Lucy MacDonald, the curator of education and community outreach. “This gives people the chance to see the breadth of the collection, to learn a little bit about the history of the Owens and … [to] discover something new.”

Although the gallery has previously hosted behind-the-scenes events like this one, the last one took place way back in 2012.

As the whole gallery was open, guests could admire the current exhibition Automatisme Ambulatoire upstairs. Artist Brendan Fernandes’ dance installation The Rite was also performed and later there was a screening of the film Hystera Theatre by My Barbarian.

Rachel Thornton, curator of digital engagement at the Owens, helped set up the event. “You get to see a number of works that can’t all be on display at one time … so you can see [the] real diversity of the collection,” she said. “Also [guests can] learn about how art is cared for and stored – there’s a lot of information about that that can be shared in the conservation lab.”

The conservation lab had several works on display that were in the process of restoration. Among them were paintings in need of touch-ups and basketwork waiting to be cleaned.

“There are a lot of works that need [conservation] – some need minimal restoration, some need quite a lot of work – and so having the lab here is just such a great resource,” said Tisdale. The lab also works with fine arts students every year, providing them with experience in the field.

The conservation lab at the Owens Art Gallery is the only painting conservation lab in the province and is a valuable resource for Mount Allison and Sackville.

Julianna Rutledge
Julianna Rutledge is a third year English major at Mount Allison University. She grew up outside of Toronto (which she never quite liked) and moved to Sackville for university (which she would like better if there were less exams). She is an Arts and Culture reporter at the Argosy.