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backstory: Too clean?

It’s an exceptional experience to be with an artist who is seeing an exhibition of their work for the first time. I don’t mean a first exhibition of their work, generally. I mean an exhibition of a particular set of works of theirs that they are seeing on view for the first time.

I recall how emotional it was for Louise Fishman to see her first retrospective, held here at the Neuberger. Seeing your entire career laid out in front of you is daunting. I had a similar experience last week when I walked into The Fâ Series exhibition with Romuald Hazoumè. The last time he had seen the works was about two years ago when they were in his studio in Porto-Novo, Benin. Since that time, the works have been cleaned by a conservator, those that were rolled have been stretched, they’ve been hung on a wall, and they have been lit. It was nerve-wracking for me as he looked around, silently.

“What do you think?” I asked. Silence. And then the response. “Too clean.” Oh boy. Did we overclean the works when we sent them to the conservator? Another twenty minutes. I asked again… “OK?” “Yes,” he responded. “OK.” The experience of seeing them clean, on the wall, lighted, was so very different from his experience of the works in his studio. We always want artists to be happy when we show their work. Almost always they are. But there’s sometimes that moment of doubt.

Tracy Fitzpatrick
Director, Neuberger Museum of Art

Find me on Twitter @tracyfitzart