Canonized Chaos

One essential part of my job is getting to go places that other people don’t regularly see, like the squalor that is a museum before a major opening. In 2004, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art prepared its vast exhibit of Rodin sculptures lent to them by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Delicate and famous Rodin bronzes lay scattered about wrapped in gray moving blankets, some laid simply on the floor, others positioned on industrial dollies. Such homely appliances as vacuum cleaners and Windex are apparently essential museum tools. Hammers and wooden crates tend to abound.

Recently snooping around the Sonoma County Museum to prepare a story on a retrospective of sculpture by Ruth Asawa, I was tickled to watch as Asawa’s son, the clay artist Paul Lanier, came sweatily through the institution’s Federalist doors bearing famous wire works by his mother—tied pieces evoking tree limbs and the nimbus wrought by winter—and repeatedly just setting the stuff on the floor. His assistant, myself, and curator Patricia Watts then had the challenge of not just tripping over an inestimable piece of art and breaking the darned thing.

Where does your daily round take you that others rarely get to go?