Museum Life: opening nights

Opening nights for Assistant Curators are not all glitz and glamour.  Although they are filled with excitement these feeling are often overridden by the madness of final exhibition preparations. Cleaning the floor, dusting showcases and sorting out last minute invite lists are some of the things I have done on opening exhibition nights. This usually only leaves a few minutes to get ready!

In 2011 I worked the opening night of Sydney Design as an Assistant Curator for the Love Lace exhibition.  With 134 artists I had to remember what they all looked like, what artworks belonged to which artists, where they were from and whether or not they were attending the opening. In addition, each artist received a copy of the catalogue. It was my job to hand out these catalogues and with 700 guests this was no easy task! Far from a casual night of mingling and socialising, it was spent running around trying to identify the artists among other guests. There was no time for champagne or canapés, instead I think I may have run a marathon during the night!

Rebecca Evans takes a short break from Sydney Design & Love Lace Exhibition Opening, 30th August 2011 Photo: South Bourn, Powerhouse Museum

What to wear to an opening night is also something I think a bit about before hand. Working in the area of fashion and textiles, I feel the pressure to dress appropriately. There are a couple of things I take into account when deciding this: I try and wear something to fit within the theme of the evening (for the opening of Sydney Design and Love Lace I wore a 1960s pink lace dress).  It is also important for me not to look like I am wearing the museum’s fashion collection. It’s surprising the number of times I get asked if I do in fact wear the fashion collection, and yet its part of collection management procedure that acquired fashion and accessories should never be worn to preserve them.

Although opening nights can be exhausting and full on, they are one of my favourite parts of working on an exhibition. So far in my working life, nothing comes close to the joy that is seeing all the hard work, countless hours, stress and passion finally come together to make an amazing show! And yes, amongst the chaos there is still time for a lot of glitz and glamour.

Some personal tips for working an opening night:

  1. Don’t drink! You will need all your concentration
  2. Eat a big meal before hand. You won’t have time to eat during the evening
  3. Wear low heals, for all that running around
  4. Make friends with gallery officers and security. They can let you know of any changed running details


First Images: Sydney Design & Love Lace Exhibition Opening, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia, 30th August 2011 Photo: South Bourn, Powerhouse Museum

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  • Jenna February 04, 2012 03.25 pm

    Thanks Rebecca for this fantastic post! I know what it’s like to anticipate fun and mingling on an opening night, and then to face the reality of having to work! And, what to wear is always a major issue…should curators just wear uniform classic black or opt for something more showy? Thanks for bringing these issues to our readers, and your handy tips!

  • Rebecca February 04, 2012 05.52 pm

    Hi Jenna,

    Thanks for your comment.
    Yes, I’m conflicted between wearing uniform black or something brighter. As it turned out the bright pink dress I wore to this opening made it easy for my boss to find me amongst the sea of guests!



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