Learning to hang

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on October 09, 2020

Last week I had my first lesson in hanging a show. It’s amongst my new duties at the Gallery where I have so recently been accepted as a member. “I’ve never done it before,” I say to Lillian (not her real name), when she invites me to help, “but I’m keen to learn!”

It’s true: I, who have spent most of my life in boneless fog of incompetence, am feeling all charged up with the new horizons opening up, now that I’m Part Of A Team. It’s very strange for a long-time recluse to become suddenly sociable. The only reason I can even begin to make the transition is that the other members of the group are equally reclusive! In fact, I would say, this is one of the few times that I’ve met a group of people who are happiest when they’re alone with their work. Just like me.

The Gallery has big windows and wonderful light. There are two rooms: One is the reception area and the other is the main gallery. The reception area is where members show their work, while the main gallery is for guest artists, usually three or four. Typically, there’s a new show every month. Each time there’s a new show, the walls are painted afresh and the holes in the walls are filled in. The pedestals for three-dimensional pieces are also repainted and rearranged. Neat, transparent labels that are printed out and positioned alongside the art.

Painting the walls and hanging the main show are tasks that belong to two other members, whom I’ll call Mark and Anthony. But the reception area, where members can hang their work, also changes every month. That’s what I’ll be helping Lillian with.

There are 15 pieces to hang, ranging from medium-small, to medium-large: 7”x5” to 16”x24”. “All right!” says Lillian, “let’s decide where they go, shall we?” We’re both short ladies on the wrong side of 66, both wearing masks. But her energy is infectious! In less than 10 minutes, we’ve agreed upon a loose grouping of the framed prints and paintings. We take turns: One of us holds up a piece, while the other one stands back and says “... a little to the left... up a bit... stop!” Then we make a little mark on the wall, in pencil.

She asks me, “How good are you with hammering nails?” I reply, “Lousy!” But I pick the hammer up anyway and go for it. We take turns driving one bright shiny nail after another into the pristine whiteness of the wall. Lillian’s technique is fierce and fearless while I am much more inclined to tap gently before giving in to brute force. We climb ladders, we measure distances, we make a couple of mistakes. In two hours we’re done.

“Wow!” I say, “that looks great!” Lillian’s eyes crinkle into a smile behind her mask. “Great team!” she says. Then we lock up and she drops me off home.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on October 08, 2020

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