Natalie Campbells collection.s collection.
Natalie Campbells collection.s collection.

Shadow. Texture. Magnetic. Precise. Mood boards have got a lot of that going on. Concepts and descriptors married to images to evoke a vision. Line. Form. Like a word cloud that takes the form of a cluster of pictures. Structure. Elegance. Mood boards run right up to the border of business but still fall narrowly within the territorial borders of creativity. They’re collages whose audience is the client, not the viewer.

So when Furthermore’s José Ruiz and James Huckenpahler asked half a dozen artists and friends to draft up some mood boards, they didn’t necessarily expect them to come through with, you know, mood boards. What they delivered instead is an exhibit that puts process ahead of product. If Furthermore was a business school, these mood boards would be six case studies.

Molly Springfield sent the gallery the images she collects as research for her photocopy-like drawings of text and documents. (Disclosure: Springfield is a friend of mine.) I recognized the pictures from her studio: structural diagrams from the Mundaneum, for example, an early 20th-century analog Internet constructed by the Belgian information scientist Paul Otlet. It was up to Huckenpahler to arrange these snippets of text and schematics in a grid and print them. That’s one approach to a mood board.

Natalie Campbell responded with clippings and drawings that had graced her office space. The mood here is scattershot. Ads and cartoons cut out of magazines, some lines from Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, a layout—for whatever reason—of pictures of Watt W. Webb, a Cornell University biomedical engineer. Who knows? Adrian Parsons, on the other hand, created something to suit the purpose: a collage of effects from his desktop, much of it related to the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, where he is a digital strategist. Parsons’s mood board is more deliberate, but it’s the same sort of workspace self-portrait.

Bill Newman submitted the best set of odds and ends: tape from an old video copy-processor, a device that enabled him to print static images from live television onto thermal paper. Long rolls of receipt-quality paper printed with black-and-white proto-screengrabs look almost like a printout from the mind’s eye. (A very 1980s mind’s eye, mind you.) Not every artist’s notebook dump makes for a compelling piece, but the format alone sells Newman’s presentation.

“Mood Board” is not too far off from “Personal Effects,” a show Huckenpahler and Ruiz put together in September 2013. For that exhibit, the co-curators asked artists to contribute an object that they hold dear. “Mood Board” is fuzzier: The artists answered a call and also decided what question to answer. Which explains why Billy Colbert responded with four corny oil portraits while David Page surrendered a table’s worth of sculptural-looking instruments and implements. Furthermore is an artist’s art-space, and for the people running it, the how is every bit as important as the what.

Furthermore isn’t alone in its deep and abiding interest in how artists do what they do. Local photographer E. Brady Robinson’s new book, Art Desks, is an effort to document a part of the process that goes unseen. Published last fall by Daylight Books, Art Desks couldn’t be any plainer: Robinson has photographed the desks of artists, curators, writers, collectors, historians, and other figures from the art world. By doing so, she’s drawn up a map of the art scene, a sort of working visual field guide to the visual-art ecosystem.

There’s the modest desk of Margulies Collection curator Katherine Hinds: no computer, one notepad marked with three art-world names (Frank Stella, Alec Soth, Mary Ellen Mark), one notepad covered with details about a Chinese take-out place. There’s the spare desk of Curator’s Office dealer Andrea Pollan: MacBook, art magazines, notebook, desk phone. Then there’s the messy desk of photographer Victoria Gaitán: sticky notes, plastic toys, girly photos.

Maybe no one has ever registered the burning desire to peer into the professional life of art historian David Ward or gallerist Jennifer Schwartz. Art Desks is nevertheless irresistible, like seeing a collection of photos of people’s bedrooms or medicine cabinets. Perfect clickbait, in that sense, but maybe more resonant: I felt the urge to see my desk out there in a photo book, too. (And also to tidy it, to put a better face forward. Would that be cheating?)

The gallery is the stage, but it’s also the sideshow. So much of the work happens somewhere else, and artists love to look behind the curtains to see how it’s done. Viewers might not think they share that urge, but given the chance, they might not be able to help themselves.

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