Guideline 5.3

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Guideline 5.3:
Exhibit planners use object rotation or substitution to decrease the exposure of vulnerable objects to the hazards of long-term display.

Well-planned object rotation is an effective preservation strategy for vulnerable objects

As a general principle, the exhibit team should avoid the permanent exhibit of vulnerable objects. The planned rotation of objects on and off exhibit—or the substitution of one vulnerable object for a pre-selected alternative after a certain display period—is a useful conservation strategy that allows a vulnerable object to be exhibited while limiting the damage it will receive.

Object rotation will reduce the light damage, the exposure to inappropriate conditions, and the physical distortion that long-term display can cause. In addition, practical considerations, such as a finite loan period for objects on loan from other institutions, may dictate object rotation or substitution.

It is essential that rotation is well-planned and implemented if it is to be effective in protecting objects. For example, object rotation must be performed according to schedule, there must be sufficient staff to carry out object rotation and appropriate storage must be available for objects coming off rotation. A factor often overlooked in developing a new exhibit is that the design must accommodate object rotation by ensuring objects are accessible.

The curator and museum administrator must determine what level of damage to an object is acceptable from long-term display. Depending on the collection, in some instances it may be preferable to sacrifice one object to long-term display rather than allowing smaller amounts of damage to multiple objects.

What factors indicate the need to rotate or substitute objects during an exhibition?

Duration of the exhibit: rotation is rarely necessary when vulnerable materials are put on short-term display (3-6 months), unless the object is especially vulnerable or environmental conditions are very severe.
Vulnerability of the collection materials: length of display should be limited for objects containing materials that are particularly vulnerable to display conditions. These include textiles and objects that contain hand tinted or dyed materials, such as photographs or baskets.
Inherent value of the object: the value of an object will help establish what level of damage is acceptable from its use in a display. Depending on the collection, in some instances it may be better to sacrifice one object to long-term display rather allowing damage to multiple objects.
Display conditions: vulnerable objects can remain on exhibit longer if the risks of exposure are limited by modifying the display conditions (providing mitigation features such as dust filtration, reduced light levels, closed rather than open display, etc.). Alternatively, object display could be limited to those seasons with the least damaging conditions. For example, if an object will be damaged by fluctuations in relative humidity and this situation occurs during the summer months, then the object could be rotated off exhibit during the summer.
The decision to exhibit an object may require rotating it off exhibit. The exhibit conservator may recommend exhibiting a vulnerable object on the condition that it will be rotated on and off exhibit, or that the object will be removed from display after a specified period. The agreed-upon schedule should be adhered to or the object will suffer.
Object loan agreement. The object loan agreement from the lending institution may require the object to be exhibited for a finite period of time and then rotated off exhibit. This agreement must be adhered to, both to prevent damage to the object and also to safeguard the museum’s chance of further loans.

What factors contribute to an effective rotation policy?

Exhibit design. Exhibit structures and cabinetry must be designed and fabricated to accommodate object exchange: Cases should allow for safe and easy access; object placement should allow for safe removal and replacement.
Administrative commitment. Staff time is required to implement object exchanges. The museum’s administration, as well as the exhibit’s curatorial staff, must therefore commit the resources to follow through.
Personnel to implement rotation. Qualified staff should implement the scheduled rotation or substitution. The conservation benefits of rotation or substitution can quickly be outweighed by poor object handling.
Availability of substitute objects. The collections must have appropriate material to rotate onto display.

Guidelines for creating an effective rotation schedule

Follow the conservator’s recommendations for rotation of each object. The amount of time an object should remain on exhibit will depend upon the object’s vulnerability, the risks from the exhibit location, and the level of protection provided by the exhibit’s design. Depending on the circumstances, rotation of exhibit objects can occur every:
• Three months
• Six months
• Nine months
• One year
• Eighteen months
• Two years
Schedule each object individually. Different objects within the same exhibit may require different rotation schedules. Although an exhibit-wide schedule may seem convenient, the display period for highly sensitive objects should not be extended to coincide with the rotation of other objects that can be safely exhibited for a longer time.
Schedule rotation during periods of low visitation. A successful strategy for some museums has been to remove sensitive materials from display during periods of low visitation, which can account for up to 6 months each year.
Include the schedule in the Maintenance Manual. Rotation and substitution schedules are an important part of exhibit maintenance and should be clearly documented in the Exhibit Maintenance Manual.
Utilize scheduling technology. Computer programs, such as ___, can provide reminders that it is time to rotate an object.

Guidelines for implementing effective object rotation

Adhere to the rotation or substitution schedule.
Minimize handling of the objects. Provide a transfer container wherever possible and transporting carts.
Maintain case functioning. Ensure the original level of air-tightness in the exhibit case is not compromised when the case is accessed for object exchange.
Ensure the object mount will support the new object. Check that the exhibit object mount is not damaged during object exchange and that the mount is appropriate for the new object.
Provide appropriate storage conditions for objects when they are not on display; this could be in a permanent storage area or in a temporary holding area. (See Guideline 3.3)
Document the condition of the objects at the time of the rotation or substitution so that any future damage can be identified and established as exhibit-related or not.
Provide appropriate exhibit labels. Rotating objects can affect the exhibit’s interpretation. The exhibit text and label copy must be general enough to allow for objects to be exchanged, or new text must be installed along with the object(s).

Sample Rotation or Substitution Form

  • Form 1.6 Exhibit Object Rotation or Substitution Report Form [in copy sent to AIC]