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The select, perfectly-placed artwork adorning the walls, stands, and even floors of the Hammer Museum at any given time are usually a visitor’s focal point. But at the recent Back of the House Tour, art-lovers—and museum newcomers like myself—were given the opportunity to see just how curator Allison Agsten and her colleagues keep track of, and constantly sift through, 45,000 pieces of art.
“There are these massive metal racks that extend really high,” said Agsten of the nearby warehouse where thousands of treasures are stored. This million-dollar vault was understandably off-limits, but she did show off the appointment-only Grunwald Center, where looky-loos can view selected pieces from the museum’s exhaustive off-wall collection and even request particular rarities they want pulled for viewing. Agsten is currently researching a rare print of a female Buddha that is on display in the Grunwald.
One would think that curators, like artists, require an organic space where both their work and their chi can thrive. At the Hammer, they have offices and cubicles just like the rest of us—only with much better decor. An impressive colored-pencil and Swarovsky crystal mosaic by Nathan Mabry titled OMFG currently lives in the office lounge, along with two other wish-I-could-haves (White Birch Grove: an oil and enamel by Kirsten Everberg and I Will Never Die Again: a watercolor and acrylic by Freidrich Kunath).
The museum’s Invitational exhibition commences on January 30, and in preparation, Agsten’s desk is covered with leaves. Working on a collaborative public engagement with artist Charles Long, the curator has been trying her hand at leaf drawing, the task she resumed after bidding our group adieu. I took that time to check out artist Mark Flores's current work, using my newly acquired perspective.