Because of their sensitivity to light, works on paper displays are changed more frequently than paintings or sculptures. This is great for regular visitors to the National Gallery, as it means added opportunity to see the breadth of the Tyler collection. For an idea of what is involved in changing a gallery display, this month we’re taking a behind-the-scenes tour of an International Prints rehang.
Rehanging a gallery is more complex than you might imagine and involves the coordination of many different departments. At least three months before a rehang takes place, curators decide what to display and negotiations with conservation, mount-cutting and framing staff as to how best exhibit and protect the works begin. We looked at this process in last month’s entry here. The Exhibition Design Department is consulted and sometimes a mock-up of the wall is created. Exhibition designers are also responsible for creating labels and wall texts when required.
As the date of the rehang approaches the Exhibitions Department liaise with registration staff to coordinate the movement of artwork between galleries and storage spaces. On the day of the rehang security staff block public access to areas where work is to be carried out, and the installations team prepare their equipment. Curatorial staff are on hand to layout the works and conservation staff are present to condition check the art as it comes off display.
In mid-November we installed Tyler collection works in the Pop and Contemporary International Art galleries. You can see what happened that day in the photo series below.
1. The gallery space is cordoned off from the public and the installations team bring their equipment in on trolleys.
2. Coming off display in the Pop gallery were Jasper John’s Color numeral series and two prints by David Hockney, to be replaced by Johns’ Black numeral series and Hockney’s Wind and Snow from the Weather series. Going up in the Contemporary gallery were Spoleto circle and Balance by Richard Serra.
3. When laying out or removing works from the wall, the installations crew use blocks: framed works are never placed directly onto the ground, instead felt covered blocks are used to cushion any impact.
4. Works waiting to be hung are brought to the space by registration staff in A-frame trolleys. These trolleys will then be filled with works coming off display for return to storage
5. The conservation team inspect each work thoroughly to ensure that it is clean and bug-free before returning to storage. In the highly unlikely event that a bug has made it into the gallery space and onto an artwork, ensuring that it doesn’t then travel to art storage areas is essential.
6.Installations staff calculate where to insert hanging devices.
7. Curatorial staff observe the proceedings and advise where to position works. Despite careful planning, sometimes proposed layouts change when the works are brought to the gallery space. This was the case here, when only two of the intended four Richard Serra works were hung.
8. The final hang. Make sure you come in and see these works in the flesh before they change again!