Canton's Art Museum Turns Back-Room Construction Into Gallery Opportunity

Sep 22, 2017

At most museums, what you see on display is often just a fraction of an entire collection. An exhibit at The Canton Museum of Art through the end of October is taking a challenge and turning it into an opportunity to show much, much more.

Curator Lynnda Arrasmith walks down a dark hallway in the back of the Canton Museum of Art. She passes through several doors and past an alarm keypad.

“So this is what we call two dimension; it’s where we house everything that’s flat like paintings and prints and watercolors. As you can tell the racks are all empty," she explains  as the door creaks open to the Museum's storage wing. 

The racks are empty because the museum is renovating this space, replacing old skylights that over time could damage the artwork stored here.

But to make room for all this construction, a full quarter of the museum’s collection more than 240 paintings, ceramics and sculptures had to be moved out.

'Why not show it to them, no matter how we have to do it. And let's do it in a fun way.'

That’s when Assistant Registrar Kaleigh Pisani-Paige had an idea: Why not hang all the displaced work salon-style?

“That means you try to squeeze as many works as possible on every inch of space possible. So normally in a museum you’d go in and everything will be spaced out properly; you only see a few things on the wall. But here you will see things above eye level, below eye level, squished into every possible space," Pisani-Paige explains. 

She says this is almost certainly the greatest number of works ever exhibited at once in the museum.

The style of hanging artwork this way originated in 18th Century France, where large quantities of art were displayed to the public regardless of class, gender or social standing in vast salons. But the style has largely died out in modern museums.

“I was honestly just thinking about the visitor. And thinking about ‘Well, why hide it? Why not show it to them, no matter how we have to do it.’ And let’s do it in a fun way, something that we don’t usually do and give them an idea of our whole collection, really, what we’ve been collecting all these years. And see them all together."

She says much of this work has never been exhibited together. So large watercolors are edge to edge with small intimate drawings. Huge Egyptian-inspired sculptures overlook paintings that have been in the collection for decades.