Thursday, September 3, 2009

Putting it on the Wall and Making it Stay There

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

The nightmare is always the same – I walk into a gallery. It’s the one that I spent hours installing the day before. Paintings are hanging at rakish angles, the priceless objects have popped out of their lovingly created brass cradles and lie in a heap at the bottom of a case. I wake-up in a cold sweat screaming like the fellow in Munch’s famous painting! I arrive at work in a mild state of panic and try not to run to the gallery – and there they all are happily placed where I have left them. Thank heavens, it was just a dream …

But honestly, getting those beautiful and valuable objects on the wall is sometimes not a job for the faint of heart. When I first started in this field preparators (those who prepare and install exhibits) might think nothing of blithely drilling a hole through a mask or screwing an ancient object directly to the wall. It did solve the issue of keeping it up securely on display but didn’t do much for the integrity of the object itself.

In this more enlightened age we display our collections with the health of the object in mind. As the Hippocratic Oath directs “do no harm” is the intention of the preparator, although when you are handling a 30,000-year-old necklace or trying to display a crumbling textile that becomes very tricky. Things have been known to chip, flake, or plain old break. Fortunately we exercise enough care that this is exception and not the rule. And, with the help of an excellent conservator these things can be put to rights.

Mounts are created to cradle objects with the least bit of stress on the piece itself. Hanging hardware is chosen to support the weight of a painting and make sure that hooks or wires will not give way. Manikins are carved and padded to fit the garment being displayed without stressing seams or delicate fabrics. If the support system is done well it almost disappears and the visitor is barely aware of what is keeping the object on the wall.

Take a peek next time you come in to visit us. You can join the ranks of preparators who visit other museums and are stopped by guards as we examine an object from every angle trying to figure out “how did they get that thing to stay on the wall?!” It will give you a new perspective and appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes (hopefully, without the nightmares!)

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin