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Puzzling Heizer

If there’s one thing that I learned as a curatorial intern helping with the installation of the exhibition Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph, 1964–1977, it is that when tackling a show of this scale and ambition, there are surprises at every turn. This proved to be the case especially for Light Years because several of the works featured in the exhibition have not been shown since their original creation and presentation in the 60s and 70s (as noted by fellow intern Julia here). Pair that with the fact that most of the artworks are not simply individually matted and framed photographs that can be hung on the wall, but rather works with multiple components and complex—at times unusual—installation requirements. The result was a demanding and painstaking installation process that took our team of curators, conservators, and installers over four weeks to complete.

Take, for example, the two works by Michael Heizer in the exhibition, Munich Depression (1969) and Munich Rotary Interior (1969). Installing the former was fairly straightforward (relatively speaking). The nine prints that make up the artwork were pieced together and mounted with tape on white plywood board and covered with glass by the artist. The only complicated part of the installation of the work was its awkward-to-handle length (nearly eight feet!) and weight (easily 50 pounds!). Fortunately, the museum’s expert team of art handlers was able to install it without much of a problem.

Installing Munich Rotary Interior, however, proved to be an entirely different beast. First, the work is enormous. Spanning 28.5 feet long and nearly 6 feet tall, Munich Rotary Interior is, like Munich Depression, made up of nine gelatin silver prints mounted on board. Heizer conceived this monumental version at a later date than Munich Depression, but had never shown it before this exhibition. Because the entire work is a curving panorama when each photograph is properly fitted together, each board is cut slightly different. Some are trapezoids, some are more rectangular, and some have little arms that reach across the photograph they border.

As a result, before the crew could even attempt to install Munich Rotary Interior, the photography department’s conservators had to come up with both an installation plan and a safe hanging mechanism that would take into account the puzzle-like alignment of the various pieces and protect the delicate surface of the overlapping photographs. The solution was first to create a full-scale cardboard maquette of the entire work that was used for placement. Once the precise location of each piece was mapped out and outlined on the wall, we made custom padded hooks to hold each piece securely in place. When the day came to install Munich Rotary Interior in Regenstein Hall, it required about eight sets of hands and the better part of a day to meticulously fit each puzzle piece together. The end result is that Munich Rotary Interior—giant though it is—seems to float on the wall.

Since both of Heizer’s versions hang adjacent to each other, the finished installation is encompassing and extraordinary in its scale. The monumental Munich Rotary Interior and the smaller Munich Depression are visually in dialogue, and to me, the juxtaposition of the two concludes the exhibition with an exclamation point.

—Danica S., Curatorial Intern, Department of Photography