SAN ANTONIO – It’s the biggest rule at a museum: you can look, but don’t touch.
Some people, though, do get to touch priceless works of art for a living.
News 4 WOAI went behind-the-scenes at the McNay Art Museum
as it prepared its latest exhibit, “Memory as Medicine,”
showcasing Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey’s works.
Staff members peel back the closed doors and step inside a work of art in progress.
"It's fun,” Bailey says. “Making art, to me, has always been about play."
He’s the artist whose name will be on the wall, and whose works will fill the exhibition hall.
It’s a high-pressure gig: the last exhibit in this space featured pop-artist Andy Warhol.
“This is my 15 minutes,” Bailey jokes.
It takes a whole lot longer to recreate one of his biggest pieces: an ocean with waves made from old piano keys he found at a music store.
“How do you know what goes where,” News 4 reporter Emily Baucum asks as Bailey throws piano keys onto the ground.
“I don’t,” he responds.
It’s a toss of artistic license because every painting, every sculpture, even each label has its place, down to the centimeter.
“We start by working on scale models,” McNay curator Rene Barilleaux says. “We make miniature art works in a sense. We lay them out on a scale model.”
The pain-staking process takes months because the staff only has a few days to unpack and arrange the pieces. Most of them are on loan from an Atlanta art museum.
“We use gloves on everything,” McNay staff member Ethel Shipton says.
Remember “look, but don’t touch?”
“There’s hand oil and stuff that you don’t want to get on,” Shipton explains while putting on gloves. “That could make permanent damage to the pieces.”
The professionals touch the art very gingerly and look with a critical eye.
“Making sure the artwork is level on the wall,” Shipton says while adjusting the frame of a painting.
Bailey keeps churning the waves in his piano-key sea. The man trying to keep his head above water is meant to be an African slave, or the modern counterpart.
"It could relate around Katrina,” he says. “It could relate around Japan."
Just like society, an artist’s work is always changing.
“Does it ever look the same way twice,” Baucum asks Bailey. “No, never,” he answers.
“Do you ever want it to look the same way twice?” Baucum responds. “No, no,” Bailey says. “I couldn’t possibly do that.”
It’s the lights, camera, action that turn empty rooms into masterpieces.Bailey’s exhibit
opens to the public Wednesday, June 4, and will be on display at the McNay until September 2.