This week, two members of our Collections and Exhibitions staff, Jennifer Roberts and Rachel Goldstein, take us behind the scenes – and behind the display cases. For more from our C&E staff, you can follow them on Twitter (@MJHREG) where they tweet all about collecting, rotating, and preserving.
Have you ever been to a museum only to discover that your favorite objects were no longer on view? There are many reasons why museums remove items from display. At MJH items are removed most frequently due to a process we call rotation.
Though our galleries are maintained according to museum standards, it is impossible to avoid exposure to light and changes in temperature and humidity, which over time can adversely affect objects on display. Museums combat this continued risk by frequently rotating objects on view. You’ll find us in the permanent collection every few weeks installing new objects and returning displayed items to storage. Because light and temperature damage accumulate over time and cannot be reversed, we store items in boxes that help protect them from light and in a climate controlled space.
The rotation process involves many steps and the cooperation of the curatorial and registration staff. Our collections curators begin the process by deciding which case in the permanent exhibition to rotate. Using MIMSY, our collections database, they compile a list of potential objects that fit – thematically, aesthetically, and physically – within the chosen case. This list of objects is then sent to our registrars who condition report each object. Condition reporting allows us to document the objects’ current physical state, including any damage, wear and tear, and areas of concern. If it is determined that the objects are suitable for display, we will consult our preparator, who makes recommendations for mounting and display.
While our preparator is busy making mounts for the objects, our curators design case layouts and write label text. Once the text and layouts are finalized, we produce our own labels and make sure everything is accurate, complete, and ready to rotate.
Installation usually occurs during early morning hours prior to the museum opening to the public. Once the case is open and the current objects have been removed, we take the opportunity to clean and dust inside the case. The new objects are installed along with their corresponding labels, and the physical installation is complete. Photos help document the newly rotated case, and our database records are updated to reflect the many changes.