“Let’s talk Dürer!”
These are the words that started my involvement with The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer exhibition. They came from Jay Clarke, the Clark’s Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photography, a couple of weeks into my tenure as Print Room Assistant.
Even after two years in the Williams graduate program, I had no idea there were enough of Dürer’s works in the Clark collection to mount a show. I was also (shamefully) unaware of both Dürer’s breadth of subject matter and the extensive process behind an exhibition on such an artist. Completely unaware of what I was in for, I fell, head first, into the marvelously strange world of this Dürer exhibition.
Once the works were carefully chosen, a large brainstorming session was held that included representatives from a wide array of the museum’s departments—curatorial, education, publications, communications—and we listened to every free association proffered:
“What about black lights in the galleries?”
“Could we have a life-sized rhinoceros in the lobby?”
“Is multimedia an option?”
“What’s the best way to make the audience feel as if they are hallucinating?”
While the last one was suggested with complete jest, one thing became clear: this was to be a very visually interesting show. The works demanded it.
Discussions over seemingly minute particulars ensued:
“Do we put the monkey or the lizard detail on the wall?”
“Wait, what about the old hag, we can’t forget the old hag!”
“Now, Dominican italic or Disturbia, which is the proper font for the wall text?”
“Is this red or that red the appropriately violent red?”
As the team rookie, I was often puzzled by this pondering. As things progressed, however, I would look back at a Dürer print that I had seen many times before and realize that it really did look better against that red. The decisions were entirely about allowing the audience to experience the work properly.
On more than one occasion, Jay and I would take out all of the prints in the show and line them up around the print room. While the point of the exercise was to permit Jay a glimpse of the show’s big picture and to enable her to make thematic groupings, for me, it was a surreal experience.
Every time I stood there, surrounded by seventy-five masterful works, I felt like Alice in a fifteenth-century German Wunder-land. The stag from St. Eustace seemed to leap out of its forest and into St. Jerome’s study. The cheers and jeers of the rowdy peasants became audible as they danced around. Even when I believed I had become acquainted with all the fanciful characters there were to meet in this world, Dürer would remind me that I had only just begun to explore his strange world.
So I looked again. There, in an Apocalypse print I had spent hours gazing at, was something new and curious. One of the heads of the monstrous beast was the head of…
Immediately I realized that these works will always be unfamiliar in the most deliciously strange way. One simply does not grow tired of looking.
I encourage everyone to come to the exhibition and look closely. Find your own bunny and just follow it down the rabbit hole.