Prop Master exhibition text, 2009, by Laurel Frederickson
Strategically centered in the gallery, Prop Allocations or Accents for Gracious Living signifies the museum as institution and microcosm of society, and explores its status as a society’s self-portrait. The shape of Juan Logan and Susan Harbage Page’s installation mirrors that of the gallery to comment on how culture – rituals, codes, manners, and customs – is supported and sustained by the museum as a prop master, with works of art the props to stage a particular portrait of society.
The six stately, matching white fluted columns that enclose the installation, like those gracing many of Charleston’s historic homes, imply a Greek temple, symbolizing the culture so celebrated by Euro-Americans for its democratic values. Ironically, these very columns also recall how the forced labor of slaves provided South Carolina planters with the wealth to build and furnish the luxurious town homes that give Charleston its great charm and beauty.
The platform holds 10,000 boxes. These boxes represent the 10,000 works that comprise the collection of the Gibbes Museum of Art, largely society portraits, landscapes, and miniatures. Interspersed among the white boxes are 40 black ones. These signify the only works in the collection created by African Americans, acquired recently or which entered the collection accidentally. The veiled box refers to the first work by an African American that became part of the Gibbes’ collection. Only long after its accession did it become known that its author was African American. The stacked rows of small black boxes that support the platform suggest the unacknowledged role of African Americans in upholding this culture and sustaining its economic structure.