Exhibit Production, Object Installation and Maintenance
Exhibit Production and Object Installation
- Avoid transporting objects into production areas. Ensure the safety of objects during measurement and fitting sessions. Implement techniques to reduce, contain, and collect dust in areas where objects must be transported.
- Inspect exhibit assemblages that affect objects. Include several inspections during the production phase to ensure that the preservation elements are built to specifications. Test and approve exhibit cases with conservation features before object installation.
- Complete construction before object installation. The exhibit area should be cleared of debris and dust.
- Evaluate the exhibit team's performance. Review the exhibit process and evaluate the exhibit environment to assess how well the final product addressed the initial conservation concerns. Introduce any improvements and adjustments to the exhibit process for the next project.
The Final Phase
The production phase of the exhibit process is a critical step in the realization of a preservation-responsible exhibit. During this phase, multiple levels of conservation are implemented. The exhibit conservator is part of the team that inspects and tests the exhibit cases, lighting systems, and object mounts. After construction and testing are complete, the exhibit space can be cleaned of debris for object installation.
Careful mount making and object installation are time-consuming endeavors that must be accommodated in the installation schedule and exhibit budget. Care of the objects continues even after the exhibit opens to the public. A maintenance plan must be established and carried out.
The production phase of an exhibit creates a potential hazard for collections throughout the museum because of the high amounts of particulate. Measures to limit the production of dust or to contain particulate matter include:
- altering construction techniques-for example, by damp-finishing drywall
- using collection bags on saws
- using plastic sheeting or temporary walls to block off construction areas
- cleaning up with a high-efficiency particulate vacuum unit that does not exhaust fine particulates back into the space
Inspection and Performance Ratings
Many exhibits include one or more conservation elements that must be tested, assessed, and refined. The plans for tightly sealed cases, for example, establish an anticipated function and specify the construction materials and methods. The construction schedule must allow time during production for the conservator, designer, and other team members to inspect and test the case construction and modify conservation elements. In addition to ensuring that the work is implemented as intended, these inspections can identify a flaw before the case is finished or before the mistake is repeated in other cases. Testing also points to further refinements.
The installation of cases, followed by the placement of objects, is a critical phase for object preservation. The care with which objects are handled and mounted affects their condition long after the exhibit opens. Although the staging of object installation varies among institutions and projects, the responsibility for overseeing the handling and movement of objects should always be clearly assigned. Installation must proceed in an orderly manner, with sufficient time to ensure that accidents do not occur and the mounting of objects is not rushed. Only experienced object handlers should move and install objects.
Reserve enough time to complete construction of the conservation elements and to mount all objects safely. Certain activities must be completed before installation of objects can begin:
- Complete construction of the exhibit casework.
- Clean the area of dust and debris.
- Test sealed and ventilated cases to evaluate their performance.
- Aerate the cases and the exhibit space for a minimum of three weeks.
- Install prefabricated mounts.
Before installing objects in the exhibit space or in an enclosed case, be sure that all surfaces and construction materials are absolutely dry and fully cured; paints, adhesives, and caulks generally require a minimum of three weeks. Never place objects immediately into newly constructed cases.
Adjusting the lighting is often one of the final steps in exhibit installation. Use a light meter to adhere to the conservation criteria for lighting. Remember that any change in the aim of a light will affect the amount of light reaching an object. Therefore, measure light levels frequently during lighting adjustments.
Evaluation and Monitoring
Once the exhibit is open to the public, the conservator and other design team members should meet to evaluate how well the design and implementation addressed the conservation criteria. Such a critique reveals important lessons and identifies successful strategies.
Daily inspections to monitor security, environment and other hazards can ascertain how well the exhibit performs relative to its design specifications and conservation criteria.
Detailed visual checks at regular intervals are needed to assess object and environmental conditions. The use of recording hygrothermographs, data loggers, or direct sensing through a computer is recommended. If pollutant absorbers have been included in a case or are used in the HVAC system, the pollutant level can be monitored using commercially available devices or polished blanks of lead and silver.
- Provide a maintenance manual. Document the construction details, lighting, and conservation features for future reference. Outline procedures and schedules for maintaining the exhibit and conservation criteria for the objects.
- Monitor exhibit conditions. Assign a staff member to inspect the objects daily. Any controlled environment- either in the overall exhibit space or in a case-must be monitored to identify when maintenance is necessary.
- Perform necessary maintenance. Replenish relative humidity and pollutant control systems as needed. When replacing lamps, refer to the maintenance plan for the lamp type and aim of the beam. Monitor light levels after the new lamps have been installed.
- Keep the exhibit area clean. A regular cleaning schedule facilitates preservation of the objects and offers an opportunity to assess any change in the conditions of the exhibit or the objects. Consult a conservator for appropriate methods and products.
- Plan ahead for the safe movement and rotation of objects. During object rotations and inspections or at the close of the exhibit, systematic removal of objects is necessary and requires proper equipment. Before beginning demolition of an exhibit, ensure that objects are carefully removed.
A comprehensive maintenance manual is essential to preservation-responsible exhibits. A maintenance manual documents the exhibit process with detailed information about materials and procedures. Include design and construction plans, a list of materials used, object locations, lighting information, and specific details about case construction and operation.
The maintenance manual should include schedules for a range of activities:
- changing filters in the building HVAC system
- cleaning the exhibit space frequently and case interiors as needed
- maintaining a consistent lighting plan when lamps are replaced
- security checks
- object rotation or substitution
- object condition assessment
- insect inspections of objects and cases
- reconditioning or renewing humidity absorbants
- replenishing exhausted pollutant absorbers
It is important to follow designated object rotation schedules. If an exhibit remains open longer than expected, the conservator should provide information on how such an extension will affect the objects. It may be necessary to add objects to a rotation schedule or to replace original documents or textiles.
The manual should document the construction of humidity-buffered or controlled cases and provide instructions on how they function, what maintenance is required, and what actions should be taken if the expected performance is not met. To maintain conservation- appropriate light levels, document the types of lamps, wattage, aim, and filters.
Continuous Operation of Control Systems
Check the temperature, relative humidity, pollution filtration, and light levels regularly against the conservation criteria. This process requires not only monitoring these conditions, but creating a mechanism to maintain the systems. Exhibit maintenance and monitoring is the final critical step in producing a preservation-responsible exhibit. A staff member or department must be responsible for maintenance of climate-control systems. Resources may be required to pay for new climate-control materials.
The cost of lamps must also be figured into the maintenance budget. Some institutions replace all lights in an exhibit simultaneously instead of one at a time. New lamps must provide the same lighting characteristics specified in the original conservation criteria. Test the light level on each object after relamping, and make adjustments until the level falls within specifications.
Most exhibit spaces need cleaning at least once a week, as frequently as twice a day if heavily visited. Staff members responsible for cleaning should be aware of some basic procedures and follow protocols established in either the site's Housekeeping Plan or the Exhibit Maintenance Manual. They should know, for example, to avoid bumping cases while cleaning floors and to spray cleaners onto cloths rather than directly onto casework or frames. Maintenance supplies should be assessed frequently to be sure that proper equipment and reagents are used (only nonvolatile cleaners should be used within the exhibit space). Cleaning products used in the exhibit areas should be approved by the conservation/curatorial staff. Floors should be cleaned frequently, but excessive water should not be used during mopping operations.
Dusting Display Objects
Objects displayed in the open require periodic dusting using conservation-appropriate methods. Objects enclosed in cases and the case interiors may also need to be cleaned at some point during a permanent or lengthy exhibit. If so, it may be safer to remove the objects from the case than to clean around them.
Although conservation treatments must be left to conservators, it is usually possible for a careful individual experienced in handling museum collections to carry out dust removal. The maintenance manual should provide any object-specific maintenance instruction. Lenders may place restrictions on cleaning objects and should always be consulted, even before simple dusting or vacuuming.
There are two generally accepted methods for dust removal: dusting stable surfaces with a dry cloth or a soft-bristled brush and vacuuming textiles, undecorated semi-tanned skins, baskets, and similar porous materials. Dusting will remove loose particles from furniture, ceramics, and frames. Some surfaces-including oil paintings, painted ethnographic objects, and objects with oily, lifting, or flaking surfaces-cannot be dusted safely and require advice from a conservator.
Vacuuming surfaces in good condition is effective as long as the nozzle is held above, not dragged across, the material. A high-efficiency particulate-arresting (HEPA) vacuum cleaner is recommended because it traps finer dust particles that would otherwise redeposit onto the objects. Often these two techniques are combined by brushing particles loose with a small artist brush and directing them into the suction flow of a vacuum nozzle.
Dismantling or Retrofitting Exhibits
The same care afforded objects during exhibit development and installation must be carried through the close of an exhibit. Remove all objects from the exhibit before dismantling or demolition begins. Objects must only be removed by experienced object handlers. Framed objects may or may not be unframed.
After final paperwork, including an updated condition report, each object will be returned to storage or to the lender. Objects that have undergone conservation treatment for an exhibit must not be allowed to suffer more damage. At a minimum, these objects should continue to receive protection from dust accumulation and severe or inappropriate environmental conditions.
As long-term exhibits age and as exhibit cases are reused for successive exhibits, some renovation of elements may be required. Retrofitting an existing exhibit for conservation is often more difficult than designing and building one from scratch, but this approach can be cost-effective in combination with an updated lighting and aesthetic design.
In a retrofit project, as in any exhibit project, address conservation issues early in the planning phase. Protect objects from physical harm and the accumulation of dust and paints during renovation. In most situations, removing the objects to a separate holding room will be necessary until the work is complete and the exhibit is cleaned of construction debris.
Exhibit Installation Standards
The following standards are suggested for developing best practices for exhibitions within an institution. click on the Standards below to view the associated guidelines that expand on the topic.
Installation of the exhibit must be well planned to ensure an orderly process that protects objects going onto exhibit during all stages of installation
Collection Care practices must be followed during each phase of installation to ensure object preservation
The exhibit environment must be monitored during object installation, and once installation is complete, to ensure that environmental conditions fulfill the Conservation Requirements
Exhibit Maintenance must preserve a safe environment for exhibit objects and ensure that all conservation features continue to function as intended