A good gallery is like a four star restaurant, the art being installed is like a flawless menu, and the curator acts as the chef, bringing his vision to life with the aid of essential collaborators. In this instance, the collaborator is Dimitri Lykoudis, a Sarasota based expert installer of fine art for numerous private clients, galleries, and museums including Ringling College’s Selby Gallery, Ringling Museum of Art, and the Tampa Museum of Art. Step by step, one wall after another, unpacking crates, arranging art, and hanging work, Lykoudis is one of the unsung heros in the life of every museum whether or not you realize it. Sarasota Visual Art had the privilege to sit down with Lykoudis and below are excerpts from that interview:
So what is a preparator? Is it a separate job than an installer?
I would say his job encompasses more than just installing. The preparator’s work starts far in advance of installation day, and ends when the work is back in storage, or shipped out to where it came from. He/she closely collaborates with the curator to produce the best possible result, and as such translates, in a way, the idea surrounding the exhibition into physical reality.
What are the responsibilities involved in your job?
In a nutshell, preparing an art exhibition for display. Here is the breakdown:
It starts with a discussion regarding the needs of the upcoming exhibition with the curator. Depending on the specific show, I may design display solutions according to their budget and construct them in advance, or purchase specialized hardware or devices.
Then the space needs to be prepared for installation. This may include painting the walls a different color or making wall repairs as needed, constructing temporary walls, or positioning rolling walls. Having perfect walls is essential, as it’s usually the backdrop for the art, and has to be as neutral as possible so it does not detract from the work. This stage also includes making sure any existing display devices (like pedestals for example) are in good condition.
After that comes the receiving of the artwork, unpacking/uncrating, checking the condition, and making condition reports together with the registrar as needed. There is a lot of responsibility involved there, as artwork is (usually) insured, and any damage has to be reported and thoroughly documented to determine liability.
When the day for the installation comes, the curator or exhibition designer lays out the position of the artwork in the space, according to his curatorial vision, and I work together with him/her to determine correct spacing measurements to achieve the best aesthetic result. Then of course is the actual installation of the artwork, involving hanging, positioning three-dimensional works on pedestals (or freestanding works), setting-up video displays, and/or working together with the artist on special exhibits like room-size installations.
Next comes lighting. Of extreme importance, it can make or break a show, in my opinion. The preparator needs to know the correct amount of light needed for the work to be displayed to its best effect. Too much light and you lose color and tone, too little and you lose detail. Also the direction of light, shading, light temperature and other aspects come into play here.
Then there are numerous details the preparator has to take care of. Any labels describing the artwork need to be installed next to the work, vinyl lettering may be pasted onto the walls and so on.
Lastly, after the end of the exhibition, the works need to be checked again, and a new condition report made before they’re safely packed for shipping, and the space is prepared for the next show.
So basically if anyone is touching the work, it’s you?
That is correct. And it’s important to know how to handle it. You have to do it in a safe way, so there is no damage to the work either in terms of breakage, or, from an archival standpoint, chemical degradation due to contact with our skin oils which are acidic. This means wearing gloves while handling the work, and generally making sure that the way you carry and place art, and negotiate space while around the art is done safely.
In your opinion, what are some of your favorite works you have “touched” or handled and why?
I’ve handled so many great works in my career that I can’t honestly decide! But having a piece of art history in your hands, works that you find in art books, that define the high points of humanity’s achievement on this planet, is a very special feeling and a great responsibility.
How did you get started in this business?
I’m an artist myself, a sculptor and painter, so I’ve always preferred having a job that is in contact with the art world. I was out of work in New York, after having worked in sculpture studios for a while, when my wife suggested pursuing that line of work. I did and got hired by Anina Nosei, the gallerist who gave Jean Michel Basquiat his studio, and represented him at the beginning of his career. What a trip! Coming from a place where such names are far distant and un-approachable, you can imagine how it felt!
What kind of background do you have for this job?
I think an artist background is essential, and that’s why almost everyone in this line of work comes from there. You need the knowledge of how a piece of artwork is constructed, in order to appreciate and handle it the proper way, and to make aesthetic decisions when it comes to lighting, spacing, designing display devices etc., and generally having a “feel” of how a piece or a show should be displayed.
Also being a sculptor has helped me tremendously, from woodworking and other fabrication skills, to knowing how to move or pack heavy or delicate pieces of art.
What should someone considering this kind of work know about the job?
That you will be a contributing factor to the cultural output in your region. You help educate the public and are a positive / constructive force. Be excited about it!
You were born in Greece, and lived in New York City for awhile. What brought you to Sarasota?
My wife and I decided to take a break from our high pressure gallery jobs there, and when her mother had an accident and needed care we relocated to Siesta Key. My wife had lived here before and has a lot of friends and connections in the area, so the transition was relatively easy.
You will be hanging the upcoming To See as Artists See: American Art from the Phillips Collection which includes a Hopper, Pollock, and O’Keeffe. What parts of this exhibition are you looking forward to?
The upcoming show at the Tampa Museum is really exciting to me. I’m most looking forward to the part where you get to see the works up close, and (hopefully) see what the artists who defined American art were doing.
What is the most exciting thing you get to do?
Apart from handling historical artwork, I like participating in the big art fairs. I see all the latest contemporary output, get to meet and talk to some very interesting people, and get paid on top of it! It IS a lot of work though.
What is the most expensive or best piece of art you have ever handled?
I might be forgetting something here but I think it must have been some of the George Grosz paintings we showed at David Nolan. Just a few million each… Wait! There was also that enormous Basquiat at Nosei…
What is the most interesting aspect of your line of work?
I like it a lot when I have to get creative about designing a display solution for a piece or group of pieces, to think out of the box, as they say. A lot of times you have to do it at the last minute, as sometimes pieces are added or some aspect of the show might change unexpectedly, and I get a lot of satisfaction when I pull it off.