Fifty-three shades of blue

Guest blogger: Luke Kelly, Curator of Antiquities


Hi, my name is Luke Kelly, and I am the UMFA curator overseeing the upcoming exhibition The British Passion for Landscape: Masterpieces from National Museum Wales.  As anticipation builds for the opening of this wonderful show—on view this Saturday, August 29, through December 13, 2015—I thought it would be fun to take you behind the scenes to illustrate the team effort required to bring an exhibition to life. In this blog, I will address what is visible but not meant to stand out: the colors on the gallery walls.

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Early in the planning process, the exhibition designer, Sarah, and I were considering several options, when a serendipitous conversation with Virginia, our curator of education, finally pointed us in the right direction.  Virginia discussed her plan for using a cyanometer as one of the interactives in Constructing the Utah Landscape, a companion exhibition in our Emma Eccles Jones Education Gallery. A cyanometer is a 1798 invention that measures the blueness of the sky with a circular array of 53 shaded sections.

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Originally a tool for scientists, the cyanometer drew the attention of artists as well. Artists in The British Passion for Landscape like John ConstableThomas Jones, and Joseph Mallard William Turner were all fascinated with the sky and depicting it accurately. The cyanometer inspired us to select varying shades of blue for the gallery walls—the colors will not only complement the art but also work well with our physical space.

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There are two main considerations when selecting colors at the UMFA: our dark wood floors and the layout of the galleries. Our dark cherry flooring brings a unique flavor to our space, in contrast to much lighter flooring in most museums, but combining it with the wrong wall color results in a very visible clash.  In addition, since the first-floor galleries offer great sightlines where a visitor can stand in a section and see other sections easily, a broad range of colors to define each section would be jarring. Sarah chose three shades of blue that worked well in the first floor space—Atmosphere Blue, Shore, and Dusk—complementing the floors, the sightlines, and of course, the art.

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Once the paint colors were chosen and de-installation of Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art and [con]text was completed, our exhibition preparator, Aaron, could finally start  painting.

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You might be wondering: how much paint do you need to paint the galleries? The answer is quite simply, a lot. The first section of the exhibit galleries needed 15 gallons of paint, the second section 10, and the last section 15!

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But the most important test came when installation of the exhibition began. How do the colors work for masters like Monet, Turner, and Constable?  Everyone, from the couriers who accompanied the exhibition from its previous venue, to installers here at the Museum, commented on how beautifully the paintings shine on the blue walls.  Your opportunity to experience the full effect of color, sightlines and world-class art will come this Saturday, August 29, with the opening of The British Passion for Landscape: Masterpieces from National Museum Wales!

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One comment

  1. Janie Rogers

    Thanks you Luke for taking the time to tell us about the paint for this outstanding exhibition. It improves my understanding and appreciation for what you all at the museum do.

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