A Good Hanging

by Susan Irving

Here are my thoughts about the hanging of group shows (or even one’s own show, for that matter). 

Helping to hang the Collectif group shows is such a joy: I really appreciate being asked to help. However,  I feel I must apologize for sometimes being such a picky pain about where things should go. 

I was trained to hang shows by a fierce little Scottish woman. She put me in mind of a feisty little West Highland Terrier. She was verygood at it, but extremely fussy. Once I began learning–and was eventually allowed to voice an opinion–I had to explain my reasons before she would (sometimes) relent and accept my rationale. It was often very frustrating. But I learned so much from her and am grateful for that. However, I hope I have not begun to channel her!

So, what did I learn?

The most important thing in a group show: each piece must stand out and shine on its own. You have to be sure not to put any painting next to another that may overpower it. But it is more complicated than just that, as there also has to be continuity and a flow to the entire exhibit.

The colours of all the works have to flow into one another without being too matchy-matchy. Which means picking one or two colours out of each painting to ensure all the paintings surrounding it complement one another, while still ensuring each work is a jewel in its own right. Eventually you end up with walls which gradually move from warmer to cooler on the colour spectrum, and back again, with surprising little interesting “pops” that reflect back to another wall here and there. 

When paintings are first delivered for a show they are lined up on the floor all around the walls. It’s rather a big, daunting jumble. Gradually the works are moved around to different walls. Often pieces are shifted from location to location several times! It can take quite a while before everything is lined up, ready to hang. And even then, things can suddenly get moved, due to factors such as size, heaviness and, of course, the input of the other artists hanging the works.

Everyone has an opinion – or several! It is fascinating discussing colours, shapes and why which pieces should go where, with equally passionate people. There is always something new to be learned from one another. 

Unless there is a designated themed wall, I prefer not to hang group shows according to subject matter or medium.  For example, in a group show if all the photos are placed together, visitors only interested in photos may not bother to look at any other works.  

This is also why I don’t like to group works by the same artist all in one spot. Their friends may come in and only look at that person’s works, which would not be fair to the other participating artists.  

Well-placed works of art in a group show should be varied, with the aim of delighting and engaging the viewers. It is always a surprise, after the hours of hard work, to stand back to see the total effect once everything is place.

Collectif Show at the Nor’Westers & Loyalist Museum, 14 May 2022. Photo by Milo Smith.


[The show is on until 19 June but hurry, 11 works already sold! Many thanks to our intrepid band of show hangers, who spent five hours organizing, then hanging, the 71 works.]


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