I was particularly interested in “Preventive Conservation in the Renovation of the Harvard Art Museums: Before, During, and Ever After” by Angela Chang, Penley Knipe and Kate Smith, as my employer LACMA is currently undergoing a similar museum building project.
Angela Chang, who presented the paper, began her talk with a brief summary of the museum’s history, which concluded with the presentation of the new LEED Gold building by Renzo Piano as well as the new storage facility that housed the entire collection during the museum building’s construction. She demonstrated how Harvard’s conservators successfully integrated the aspect of preventive conservation into an already established design and construction process. She also stressed the importance of cooperation and communication with external groups, such as administrators, donors, architects, and others, for the success of the project.
Angela discussed three main topics in conjunction with the new building.
- Samples of all potential and existing materials in the construction of the storage facility and the new museum were tested using the Oddy Test. Results of the tests, among other topics, were discussed in weekly construction meetings held with architects, contractors, engineers, and project managers. Only 50% of 900 tested material samples passed the test and some materials needed to be tested repeatedly due to sample mix-ups. Existing fireproofing material made of cementitious plaster, for instance, was completely removed from the storage facility for the sake of the preservation of the collection and health of humans.
- 300 computerized and smart, single or double blinds control the light levels in the exhibition spaces and the conservation labs, but the new museum building turned out to be more light flooded than initially expected. A seasonal programming schedule was derived from a light monitoring program based on over 50 readings and requirements from the facility department. Based on the seasonal occurrence of light leaks, conservation staff needed to identify exhibition areas not suited for light sensitive artworks and still works on permanent displayin order to safely exhibit parts of the collection. Light blocking films, for instance, are currently being tested to address light leaks.
- For a short time now, visitor incidents are recorded systematically and measured with a program developed by Security, Conservation, Collections Management, and IT called Art Touch Cards. The 46 guards can notify conservation and collection management staff immediately with urgent issues; minor issues are reported by filling out cards that are compiled and reviewed daily. Based on quarterly analysis of the data, artworks and galleries with a high incident rate can be identified and issues can be addressed. Improvements were made by adding colored lines of tape in the galleries as visual barriers, editing label texts, limiting the amount of visitors in one room, staffing galleries, and training guards.
Angela summarized her presentation by pointing out that all departments serve a collective purpose and that how relatively simple management systems, like the Art Touch Cards, can bridge interdepartmental communication gabs. She reiterating how the success of the building process, as well as its maintenance, is dependent on the close collaboration of different departments and external groups.