21 Sep 20

Conservator Insight: Japanese Modernism display systems


Japanese Modernism includes a considerable number of beautiful graphic paper-based items, such as colour wood-block prints, fold-out maps, brochures, magazines and postcards, displayed amongst artworks of different material types, primarily textiles, glassware and bronzes. Presented with a brief that many of the works of art on paper were to be displayed vertically on the walls, the NGV paper conservation department and the exhibition designer worked together to realise this. It was desirable to have some consistency in the style of display and this has been considered in the decision making.

A variety of systems have been used and some are newly devised in house by the NGV Conservation department. A brief outline of the systems used are described here.

The wood-block prints are displayed both vertically on the walls and on angled plinths. Given the uneven borders often found on wood-block prints, they were all displayed within our usual mount-board mounts. These were then placed between acrylic sheets.

Where the prints are displayed vertically on the wall, the back sheet of acrylic has a shelf on which the mount sits and has first been screwed to the wall. The covering acrylic sheet is larger than the mounted print and is screwed to the wall in each corner in the extended margins.

Where the prints are displayed on angled plinths, both the front and back sheets of acrylic are the same size, slightly larger than the mounted print, and these are screwed together in the four corners with a small discreet nut below. The painted timber plinth is smaller than the mounted print, so the acrylic sheets overhang the plinth and seemingly float.

The magazines (twelve Asahi lifestyle and twelve music score magazines) are attached to the wall on a split baton system using mount board. They are strapped to mount board to keep pages shut. Polythene, an inert plastic-type material is used for the strapping as it has a degree of flexibility and its edges are not sharp. Wider strapping is done beneath the front cover where it is hidden, while a narrow strap is used over the front cover close to the fore edge. A covering sheet of acrylic is screwed to the wall in each corner in the extended margins. There is a small clear cylinder threaded on each screw, between acrylic and wall prevent the magazines from being crushed & providing distance.

The travel brochures and postcards are attached to mount board with mylar channels and polythene strapping. Mylar® is another clear inert plastic type material. Where two pieces of mylar® are welded along a straight edge, we have what is called a channel that can be cut to any length. Similar to commercially available ‘photo corners’, one side of the mylar can be adhered to another surface.

The mount board is attached to the wall with the use of velcro™. A covering sheet of acrylic is screwed to the wall in each corner in the extended margins. There is a small clear cylinder threaded on each screw, between acrylic and wall preventing the brochures and postcards from being crushed and providing distance.

The four Street posters are attached to the wall using long Japanese paper hinges that folded behind the poster and are clamped to the wall with a strip of mount board that is screwed to the wall on either side of each hinge). Two posters are displayed at a distance from the viewer, behind other artworks, so a covering sheet of acrylic was not deemed necessary. The lower edge of these two posters does curve forwards and it was desirable to restrain the lower region using very small magnets in either corner. For the two posters positioned close to the viewer, a covering sheet of acrylic is screwed to the wall in each corner in the extended margins. As in the other cases, there is a small clear cylinder threaded on each screw, between acrylic and wall prevent the magazines from being crushed and providing distance.

Any exhibition involves many different contributions from across the Gallery, and the safe display of items is a key consideration of the NGV conservation department, who routinely work in close relationship with the exhibition designer. Japanese Modernism exemplifies the alignment of all Gallery staff to bring alive the overarching vision for the exhibition, seamlessly displayed for the items to speak for themselves.

Ruth Shervington, Senior Conservator of Paper, National Gallery of Victoria

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