Seattle Art Museum’s Chris Manojlovic

The museum’s director of exhibition design chatted with us about how an exhibit is born.

By Angela Cabotaje November 17, 2014 Published in the December 2014 issue of Seattle Met

Chris Manojlovic knows art. In the 36 years that he has worked at Seattle Art Museum, the director of exhibition design has meticulously mapped out and mounted 1,000 pieces of porcelain on the museum walls; overseen the assembly of a vinyl, banana-yellow Volkswagen Beetle; and reviewed more Asian artifacts than he can even recall. On average, it takes Manojlovic and his nine-person department two years to plan a new exhibit and anywhere from three to four weeks to install a new show, from taking down the old works to repainting the walls to installing and hanging hundreds of new pieces. But if coordinating marquee shows for the city’s preeminent art institution is supposed to give him airs, Manojlovic sure doesn’t know it. “There are so many people that say art should be like this or like that,” he says. “I say just do what you like.” —Angela Cabotaje


I needed a part-time job. I got a job at the Volunteer Park location cataloging the jade collection and then moved on to different projects. I started working here in 1978 and became director of exhibition design a few years ago.


It’s really collaborative. There’s a lot of talk between everyone. It’s not just one person. The curator has the initial vision, but everyone helps realize that. I work with immensely incredible, smart people.


The goal is to always make a show better. But it’s also about logistics. We cross-reference what display cases are being used and when they will be available. We have a couple of models of rooms. We are under such constraints: security, conservation, light levels. There are multiple levels of security, and we have to allow for that as much as we can.


I don’t usually go to see the shows. By the time a show opens, we’ve seen it more times than anyone. If anything, we will walk through and get an idea of the flow and take that into consideration for the next time.


Sometimes we repaint the walls. We’ve done white and gray. We’ll build and move walls if it’s right for the gallery. We’ve done Astroturf and disco balls. There have been times when we’ll do an exhibit and get calls from people asking about the wall color. I want to tell them it’s not going to look the same in their home as it does in the museum. Get a sample and start with that.


We have to work in private. The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday, so those are the days we can be a little messy.

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