Michael Goitia is The Museum at FIT’s senior exhibition manager. He is the person responsible for building the exhibition sets and bringing the exhibition designer’s vision to life. Expedition: Fashion From the Extreme features a particularly dramatic set, and Mike sat down with us to talk about building it and other exhibitions at the museum.
1. Tell us about your job–what is an exhibition manager?
In the most uncomplicated terms, an exhibition manager is similar to the project manager at a construction site. As exhibition manager, I am responsible for making sure the exhibitions at MFIT are done on time and do not go over budget. The exhibition department at FIT consists of two factions: campus projects and exhibition production.
Gabrielle Lauricella is the campus projects coordinator; she is responsible for the interaction between The Museum at FIT and the school’s Art & Design department and faculty. Ryan Wolfe is our exhibition production coordinator; he is involved with the History Gallery and our large exhibitions in the main gallery, where Expedition is on view.
I work with Ryan and Gabrielle to create production schedules for the exhibitions, and I confer with Fred Dennis, the museum’s senior curator of costume, to help plan the long-term exhibition calendar. I am responsible for the installer budget, finding vendors, sourcing materials, and general problem-solving. I hire the exhibition installers, who have a huge impact on how the department operates, even though they are part-time.
Some exhibition loans come with strict guidelines regarding handling and display; I work with the curatorial department to ensure that those guidelines are met. I also work very closely with the exhibition designer and curator. At the beginning of the production phase for each exhibition, we meet to discuss the subject of the show and then move on to the concept of what the show will look like. The designer will submit a plan, and then I figure out how the show will be built and I start to do research and design for elements in the show.
2. What is your background and training and how did you get into museum work?
I have a BFA in painting. Like a lot of people, I came to NYC to make art. My museum training began while I was working as a carpenter to support myself. I was working at various wood shops around NYC and gradually getting more and more museum work. That consisted of building everything from pedestals to architectural elements for an exhibition. Museum exhibitions present a wide variety of building challenges, and I found museum work to be creative and satisfying. I was offered a full time position in the Guggenheim exhibition shop, where I worked for a number of years. That position ended after 9/11. From then on, I focused mostly on museum work.
3. How many exhibitions do you produce a year?
We installed 28 campus projects last year and 4 museum exhibitions. My department is busy year round. During the summer, when most of the FIT community is on vacation, we are in full production building our September show.
4. What are 3 of the most challenging exhibitions that you have worked on at MFIT?
Expedition has definitely been a challenge. The task of bringing to fruition the vision of the curator and the architect requires a lot of research and design. When you’re trying to incorporate multiple types of material, it can be a little tricky. For example, the space capsule structure in the center of the main gallery went through a major rework. We had cost and structural issues with the original design that could not be rectified in the time frame allowed for building and installation. The curator of the show, Patricia Mears, and Kim Ackert, the designer, were very gracious in going back to the drawing board and coming up with a solution that provided a framework for the objects that was not overpowering. The structure is a combination of steel tubing, curved aluminum tubing, zinc-coated steel connectors, and plexiglass. The task of finding a company to bend long lengths of tubing in a short length of time caused a few sleepless nights, but Ryan Wolfe, our production coordinator, did a great job bringing all the pieces together at just the right time.
Patricia also wanted to use a lighted rail system that we designed to display plexiglass object labels. We had come up with this lighting system for the exhibition Elegance in the Age of Crisis: Fashion of the 1930’s, which Patricia also curated. It provides the show with an additional light source and visual element, but can be very delicate to install.The hardest exhibit to build – by far – was Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s, also curated by Patricia Mears, with Emma McClendon as assistant curator. Our main gallery went through a major transformation. The gallery was painted white and we brought in large rolls of a white flooring material that is typically used for dance studios to change the floor color from black to white. We then added a curved cornice at eighteen feet above the floor to change the perception of the gallery space. The show had three large, modular platforms in the center of the gallery. These served as cases and were made up of square steel stock framing, curved plexiglass panels, and chainmail curtains. The curved plexiglass panels were made by laying sheets of plexi panels over a custom-made, curved form and heating them until they conformed to the form. That show was a lot of work and a real challenge.
You don’t want the gallery environment to overwhelm the objects, so designing a show can be a balancing act. That they have repeatedly pulled it off in a wide range of styles and designs is a testament to the talents of Kim Ackert and Patricia Mears.Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch is another exhibition that comes to mind as challenging, because the show was a reflection of Ms. Bartsch’s lifestyle and she had a lot of very specific elements she wanted in it. She wanted one area to look like her bedroom, so we loosely recreated her Chinese bed on a larger scale. For her club looks, she wanted gogo booths/dance cages, so we had to come up with something that could hold several mannequins and still look like it came from a club. Our cages were constructed of steel square tubing bent into rings and connected vertically with steel tubing. Steel mesh was used as platforming in the cages. Installing many mannequins ten feet above the floor was also difficult, and not only because of the height. Many outfits wore accessories – like wings, 3D-printed rings, and other delicate items – that could easily be damaged.
5. What are 3 of your favorite exhibitions that you have worked on at MFIT and Why? Expedition is a personal favorite. Admittedly, fashion history is not my forte, but I can relate to the objects in this exhibit. The clothes are familiar to me (this is the same reason I was fond of Ivy Style). It’s exciting to see objects that have a great history to them, like the Matthew Henson outfit on loan from the Berkshire Museum and the Skyliner jacket made in 1936 by Eddie Bauer. The Siberian funerary coat on loan from the American Museum of Natural History is amazing. The space capsule structure, although simple in form and structure, was a struggle to erect, and I am very pleased with the final product and the overall look of the show. It is a very ambitious exhibition on many levels.
Ivy Style was a lot of fun to build because it was a throwback to my finish carpentry days. Patricia wanted a vignette style layout for each section of the exhibition, with each vignette evoking an aspect of Ivy League campus life. We built a dorm room, a library, a locker room/trophy room, and a science classroom.Fairy Tale Fashion, organized by MFIT Curator of Costume and Accessories Colleen Hill, is in my personal top three because Colleen had solid ideas for the flow of the exhibit and how it should look. The main gallery was divided into nine sections, and each section was based on a fairy tale that influenced the show. The sections had large, printed panels eighteen feet high that were framed and tethered to the ceiling, effectively creating a separate room for each fairy tale. The images on the panels were simple patterns in black and white that loosely caught the atmosphere of each story.
6. Tell us something unique about putting on Expedition.
A unique element we have in Expedition is the diorama. We were able to meet with the American Museum of Natural History to tour their dioramas and learn how they are created and managed. Everyone loves dioramas, so when I found out Patricia wanted us to build one for the safari platform, I was very excited. We had a scenic artist come in and paint the backdrop. I was also able to visit the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to preview the Matthew Henson outfit. I love museums, so getting to view their collection was a treat.
Expedition: Fashion from the Extreme runs through January 6, 2018 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.