• PACCIN Member Profile : David Bogosian & Jose Smith

    This interview was conducted by Kurt Christian on June 16, 2023 at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase New York.

    . Can you tell us a little bit about your current position (title, responsibilities, what department you work under, etc.) and other relevant work history as it relates to your current position?

    D.B. My position title is Chief Preparator & Director of Facilities. The Department is Exhibition Preparation which is not under another department. I report to the Director. As the title suggests my responsibilities are split between managing preparation (shows up/down and assisting the Registrar Dept. with collection care and shipping); and managing facilities needs, essentially as a liaison to our college’s Facilities Management Group or to our own vendors and contractors.

    J.S. My original position title was Assistant Preparator, and current position title is Associate Preparator. My direct supervisor, David (who’s a great person to work for/with), is the Chief Preparator & Director of Facilities. In addition to assisting David with facilities and preparation needs I am responsible for matting & framing, exhibition lighting, exhibition graphics (vinyl didactics); and, management of student workers and interns in the Preparation Department.

    K.C. How did you get into this line of work, and what was that trajectory like?

    D.B. After getting my BFA I responded to an advertisement for an art shipping company in the DC area looking for handlers/ drivers. They were willing to train. This was in the early 90s when the industry was much smaller. Unfortunately, they went out of business a few months after I started. That was followed by a year abroad teaching and painting. After returning to the States one of the big art services companies (there were only two then) was opening a DC area location. I signed on as an art handler/ driver, primarily in the service of “locals” and mid-Atlantic shuttles. After two years I joined a small team handling extended museum pack jobs for a few months before relocating to manage this company’s New York office Packing Department. This is where my career began in earnest via exposure to several talented and influential people there; exposure to the complexities of client needs; and learning how to manage work flow and budget for it. I was with them for about eight years until they were acquired by a large general freight company whose restructuring inspired moving on. I had a comparatively short period of employment with another major art services company but my position was abolished after the post 9/11/01 economic downturn scuttled museum projects I’d been hired to work on. In a subsequent year of freelancing I enjoyed a significant percentage of work at a university museum and decided an art museum within an academic setting really appealed to me. It was a happy stroke of luck that the job I presently have opened up exactly as I was searching for one like it.

    J.S. My path to being employed here at the Neuberger is a bit more direct (although I often envy the slightly more circuitous path that David took): I was a Visual Arts student here at Purchase College-SUNY starting in the late 80’s and frequented the museum as an eager and curious visual arts student. After hearing from a professor that there might be an opportunity working with the photograph collection, I contacted the office of the Registrar numerous times to no avail. Eventually they directed me to the Preparation Department (a staff of 3 at the time), and I was then hired as a temp worker (my first paycheck being in 1992). After attending the Yale Summer School for Music and Art, graduating from Purchase College, attending Skowhegan, working at Brand-X Editions in NYC, and going to the Outer Hebrides, Scotland on a Fulbright Grant, I returned to the Neuberger and was hired as a full-time staff in 1997.

    K.C. Are there memorable moments, with artists, artworks, or exhibitions that stand out since you have been doing this kind of work? Have these experiences changed the way you had previously viewed things?

    D.B. Yes, many. It is a challenge to put together even a short list but cherry picking I recall an exhibition we did here with well-known American sculptor and in a kickoff meeting with just her, our head curator and me. I left feeling trepidatious about the project since it vibed strongly of heavy vacillation during the eventual installation period – which I’m not a fan of, not just because of the strain it puts on the schedule but also because I can’t help but feel better about artists who understand their work, can assess a space and can efficiently square those two things to envision their layout. And when the time came she was like a laser beam laying out her show with commanding efficiency. It was duly impressive how convivial she was during what can be a stressful time; very deferential to the installation crew as well and gracious – she gave every member of the team a signed monoprint. It was a lesson in checking first impressions.

    J.S. I’m not certain there’s a memorable moment, yet rather some memorable sage advice. Early in my career I was asked to come up to the gallery to assist with laying out an exhibition. I was eager to help move the artwork, at the curator’s direction, throughout the gallery, but was rather instructed to stand with the curator – and listen. It was an important moment, coming to learn that my role was not only to physically move things around the gallery, but more importantly to listen carefully to how and more importantly why the curator was making particular moves and choices…, From that moment on, I’ve continually endeavored to carefully listen to all of my colleagues, as well students, learning from and through their experiences.

    K.C. What are some of your favorite aspects of the work you do?

    D.B. I enjoy that the work encompasses so much: aesthetics, design, fabrication, frequent opportunities to meet or work with interesting people whether artists, other museum professionals, docents, contractors – all of it. I’m grateful to work with a very civil and respectable group of colleagues. On a personal level I enjoy executing tasks that support our permanent collection storage e.g. improved containers or wrappers; clearer instruction sheets for borrowing institutions; improved organization (in concert with REG). I don’t get to be hands-on as much as I’d like.

    J.S. Certainly, the most favorite aspect of my work is mentoring students that come to work in our department. As our director states often, we are a ‘teaching museum’, and our raison d’etre is inextricably tied to the endeavors of the student body here at Purchase College.

    K.C. On the flip side of that, what are some of the more challenging or least favorite aspects of the work you do, either past or present?

    D.B. Evaluations and other HR-bound work, payroll, service contracts, billing, tracking progress on work orders, etc. are assigned to department heads here.

    J.S. One of the most challenging aspects of my work is trying to keep our workshops neat and orderly. With varying staff doing myriad activities, keeping tools and materials stocked and organized is a constant task.

    K.C. Was this a career path you chose or saw yourself moving into when you were first starting out?

    D.B. I don’t think so although in retrospect it is totally logical to be in this line of work. My innate proclivities interface well!

    J.S. In my very first (printmaking) class as a Visual Arts student the professor asked what we thought we’d be doing in 5-7 years. I stated wanting to be showing my art in museums as an artist, or working in a museum. So yes, I suppose that this was indeed one goal on my path.

    K.C. Have you had influential or important relationships that have helped mold you in your career?

    D.B. Two gentlemen in the early days of my career, both packing geniuses, and present company (JS) are people whose standards for best practices and craft have been highly influential.

    J.S. I’d say that there are two individuals who’ve done that, and both of them urged me not to be too timid in my progression forward; To jump into the research aspects of my work with curiosity and vigor, and to be open about and learn from my missteps in order to continually improve my skillsets.

    K.C. Have you seen changes in your field that have been noticeable since you first started doing this kind of work?
    D.B. In general, I think standards of excellence are elevated across the field.

    J.S. Yes, the most remarkable change I’ve noticed over the years is that, in terms of labor, we are pushed to do more, with less help. It is certainly challenging, but with the relationships that have been built and nurtured over time, we vigorously support each other as best as we can.

    K.C. In my own professional experience I have had very tight partnerships and collaborations to the degree that I sometimes felt me and the other person could almost read one another’s minds and we were able to capitalize on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Since this is our first profile to interview 2 people that have that kind of close working dynamic I wonder if you could speak about that as you have worked with each other for quite some time now.

    D.B. It was a cultural adjustment transitioning from commercial art services to a not-for-profit art museum, notably with respect to allotment of time per task , although that may be more perceptual than factual. In the work we undertake, Jose and I have a close relationship and on any given day are involved with the preparation or execution of multiple projects each with different timetables and needs. Although we constitute a hierarchy of two we function as a depersonalized unit. Our focus is on getting the work done as efficiently and effectively as possible. We lost some folks to transitions in the pandemic and have been strained to find as much good help as we had before it; and there’s always much to do. The question of “being in sync” is interesting. In our work actions are discussed so thoroughly it is an interesting question to wonder where intuition fits in. But I do think Jose and I view ours as a mutually cooperative relationship and appreciate that there’s a crossover of our different skillets. He’s an excellent crafts person, designer and teacher to student interns. Occasionally we have differing points of view but for almost two decades we’ve routinely cohered action plans in the best interest of our department’s mission aesthetically, functionally, and budgetarily as well as in service to our various constituencies: the public, our Education Department and their programs, faculty and their students.

    J.S. Yes, over the years it was a major adjustment; but really in a positive sense. I’d learned (from David) to better cope with tighter deadlines, which (for me) has helped guide more efficient and openminded workflow. I’d often found myself trying to plan activity in a manner that would consider myriad tasks and details from beginning to the culmination of a project, and came to admire and learn from David’s ability to compartmentalize tasks and events. This has actually helped lower stress levels in doing my work, and helped me to broaden my patience and understand how tasks can be accomplished in many different ways, with input and concepts. David is actually a very good listener, and takes the time to thoroughly talk over varying solutions in order to come to a clear consensus and understanding the task at hand; working with him has helped me in developing my skills with supervising student interns, and assisting with management of our part-time staff.

    K.C. Do you have any advice to someone beginning a career in this field?

    D.B. If you think you’ll be in it for the long haul try to get some foundational time in the for-profit sector like an art services company. It’s like boot camp and you’ll be exposed to a lot of packing or installation scenarios quickly. Then consider migrating to the not-for-profit sector where profit is not the prime determinant overarching time.

    J.S. Try to be your best listener, while tempering your desire to impress. At any given institution there’s process, protocol and workflow that’s been developed over many years or even decades. Take the time to be keenly aware of how and why things are happening around you.

    K.C. How long have you been aware of PACCIN and what has it meant to you professionally?

    D.B. Twenty-five years or so. My main experience with PACCIN is the forum and being able to network with others doing the same work and learn about products and solutions to challenges is invaluable. Meanwhile, thanks for this opportunity Kurt. It’s been fun to work on it with you.

    J.S. I’d been made aware of PACCIN when David began working here, so about 18 years or so. As a preparator that enjoys research and learning new things, it’s meant a great deal to my development.

    -Kurt Christian