Guideline 10.4

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Guideline 10.4: Extra precautions are taken to protect objects when open display is unavoidable

Are there circumstances under which open display is appropriate?

Open display is generally chosen due to two important considerations:

  • Interpretive requirements: In historic homes and other buildings where the aim is to recreate or preserve an historic setting, cases may be intrusive. However, cases should still be used to house highly sensitive and valuable objects or easily stolen objects.


  • Aesthetic requirements: In sculpture and painting galleries open display is often required.


Open display may be appropriate in certain exhibits because of a combination of special circumstances. Such exhibits usually include the following conditions:

  • Exhibits of short duration: In longer exhibits—those over three months duration—vulnerable objects will generally require the protections provided by a case or some style of enclosure.


  • Exhibit objects are oversized: The cost of housing large artifacts such as machinery and farm equipment in cases can be prohibitive, and their size makes theft unlikely.


  • Low risk of visitor contact with objects: Some exhibit environments, such as those viewed from a doorway or behind solid barriers, minimize the likelihood of visitors touching, damaging or stealing objects. In this instance, open display may be appropriate. Alternatively, if reproductions or substitute objects are used, the risk of visitor contact is less problematic.


  • Adequate environmental protection can be provided: Open display of objects normally requires that soil and dust infiltration in the exhibit space is scrupulously minimized and that environmental conditions are moderated throughout the entire exhibition area.


  • Adequate maintenance can be provided: There must be adequate resources for cleaning and maintenance, which will both need to be performed with much greater frequency.


  • Adequate security can be provided: Adequate security for open displays may require guards, video monitors and other security arrangements. These involve long-term, frequently ignored costs. Small objects that could be easily pocketed or that are valuable should be exhibited in a case, or reproductions should be used.


  • Exhibit objects are sufficiently robust and stable: An exhibit case should always be used to display vulnerable objects such as fragile textiles, paper, feathers and basketry.


What precautions must be taken to protect objects in open display conditions?

In open display, protection must be provided through controls in the general exhibit space. For example, theft and vandalism protection, protection from inappropriate light exposure and relative humidity must all be provided on the large-scale or macro level. For specific methods of addressing the agents of deterioration (preservation hazards) in the general exhibit environment, see information in the following design sections that focus on the individual hazards.

  • Standard * on lighting
  • Standard * on security
  • Standard * on climate control
  • Standard * on pest control
  • Standard * on fire and water protection
  • Standard * on protections from dust and contaminants
  • Standards * and * on exhibit layout and placement describe design strategies for protecting objects from bumping and other hazards.