In my experience, an exhibition is a kind of performance. Even with the most minimal staffing, you work with the artist or artists and preparators to realize a vision of the experience that the future audience will have. You think through sight lines, relationships, narrative, concepts, history, and future possibilities. You create conversations between pieces, facilitate discoveries, invent stories, open possibilities, all while pulling the viewer from wall to wall, room to room. While both the artist and the curator work together to create the experience, it is up to the artist to produce the work, often starting up to a year in advance. I’ve seen artists hover like a hen over a still-wet painting delicately placed on a wall. The exhibition opening date was fixed, even if the work of art was not.
After months of preparation, there is a tremendous sense of relief with the arrival of the opening date. Regardless of how the opening reception goes, I’ve noticed that there is a very predictable pattern to how the artist acts into the next week. The swell and adrenaline of the opening fades, the ego deflates, the artist is often listless, restless, even directionless. After so long with the same goal, one cannot simply switch that perpetual forward drive off, even if it is no longer needed. We called it the “fall,” the depression that comes in the days after the much-anticipated event. Rest, distraction, recovery, these are the things that typically come next. Because we know to expect it, we can help guide the artist carefully through this time knowing that they will be productive and inspired again, with time. It is not the end, but merely a part of the normal, predictable cycle.
I was thinking of that moment, the “fall,” today when planning a schedule. There are many types of performance. While I include exhibitions, others might think of music or dance recitals, plays, sporting events, competitions, and any endless variety of events. To this list, I would add “presentations.” In our work life, a well-done presentation is not that different from a play. The actors put in the work, craft the materials with the team, hone the delivery through rehearsals and notes, and strive to hit their mark during the time-boxed event we call the “readout.” With all of the preparation and pressure to deliver it is no wonder that often in the day(s) afterwards, the presenter may feel a bit out of sorts, drained from the spike in energy and adrenaline. It’s all just part of the cycle; time to rest and recover before we start over again.