Paul Mitchell has an intimate relationship with the objects at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
He has the privilege of hanging the artwork on the wall — with his own hands — in all the galleries at the museum.
His official title is “preparator,” but some museums call his position an “art handler.” And he does just that, arranging and staging everything you see at MAM.
“You literally are touching [the artwork],” Mitchell said. “You get to see it and understand it in a way that almost no one else does.”
And he’ll be the first to say, he doesn’t do it alone. It takes a team of preparators and conservators to bring each exhibition to life, all working closely together, almost like choreography.
And many of them are highly educated or artists themselves. In Paul’s case, he’s both. He holds a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, Photograhy and Printmaking, and he is a working artist whose style is “sensory overload abstraction,” he said.
No Room for Error
Each exhibition is different, requiring its own plan to execute. Moving priceless pieces of art from the crate to the wall takes days — or weeks in come cases — all with the expectation of no mistakes, ever.
“You don’t make mistakes, that’s kind of the ideal,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell was intimately involved with staging the museum’s current featured exhibition, Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy.
It includes large scale works of art like Antoine’s Organ, the showcase piece that greets you when you walk in, as well as other massive pieces made of tile, wood and glass. The exhibition also incorporates live tropical plants, shea butter and black soap — symbols significant to the artist’s African American heritage — and explores themes of race, identity and anxiety.
Click the player below to hear our interview.
Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy
Rashid Johnson’s work will be on display at MAM until Sept. 17.