Conservator, Catherine Earley, speaks about preparing for Melbourne Now.
I’ve just come back to my desk after taking part in a project meeting for Melbourne Now. Armed with a list of artists and artworks my mission at these recurring meetings is to find out more detail about what we might physically be receiving into the building including what materials each artwork is made from, how they might be displayed safely (which depends on their size and structure and/or medium and the artist and curatorial vision), and an idea of numbers and arrival dates as we need to schedule into our timetables the examination of each artwork and the writing of a condition report for each prior to install. Some of the works will be examined after they are built on site.
The Conservation Department has a section that manages inward loans, aiming to provide a safe display environment for these visiting artworks, and ultimately of course to return them to owners in the condition in which they were lent. This is a BIG exhibition though and the Exhibition section which is overseeing the conservation side of things has enlisted the help of the department’s material specialist conservators who usually specialise in the physical care of the NGV collection including frames and furniture, works on paper, photographs, paintings, textiles and objects.
Some artworks in Melbourne Now are being acquired and this is an invaluable opportunity for the specialist conservators who will have the works under their care, to interview the artists about their materials and techniques, about their vision for the ongoing storage and display of the work and to document the sometimes complex installation process.
This type of exhibition throws up particular challenges. Many artists are still making their pieces and some details may remain unknown until install. This is a very exciting aspect of exhibition conservation work contrasted to the measured examination and treatment of work in a specialist lab. It mixes planned, scientific approaches with quick thinking problem solving as unexpected physical issues create challenges to packing, pick-up and display in busy and energised gallery spaces.
Without giving away all our secrets, stay tuned as the opening draws nearer and we will share some back-of-house stories attached to receipt and installation…