Renée Riedler and Luba Dovhun Nurse, on behalf of the conservation team, Weltmuseum Wien, Austria.
This short report discusses the ongoing project to create a new permanent exhibition at the Worldmuseum Vienna, formerly the Völkerkundemuseum/Museum of Ethnology, due to open in October 2017. The museum is part of the Kunsthistorische Museum. The project began in 2013 with the decision to create a new permanent exhibition. The deinstallation of the previous display began in 1997, in the interim the museum held temporary exhibitions and was actively loaning the collection to cultural institutions in Austria and abroad. Following an international open competition, Ralph Appelbaum Associates in collaboration with Hoskins Architects were appointed to redevelop exhibition and visitor facilities in the historic Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
The 7,500m² redevelopment includes 2,400m² permanent exhibition and 1,400m² temporary exhibition spaces. More than 3000 artefacts were selected to represent the collection. The permanent exhibition will be displayed in fourteen representative galleries, more information about the upcoming exhibition can be found on the museum’s website: https://www.weltmuseumwien.at/en/discover/about-the-museum/our-new-colle...
The planning for the new exhibition began gradually while working on temporary exhibitions, loans and de-installation of the old galleries. A project on such a grand scale required a new approach from the conservation team. While in the past the work of the conservation team focused on short term exhibitions, loans, and development of collection storage, this exhibition was designed to last for at least 10 years, and was a four-year project prior to the opening. Four lead conservators took responsibility for the fourteen galleries to ensure that the conservation workflow and deadlines were efficient and well integrated into the overall exhibition schedule. One lead conservator represented the conservation team within the management team and acted as a main liaison with architects, vendors and management team.
The project was structured into four phases, these are collection survey, conservation treatment, mount assessment and making, display cases and installation.
The collection survey phase began in 2014 with the aim to evaluate the objects condition, determine their light sensitivity and their environmental needs that would be reflected in the type of display case, and the survey data was entered into the museum database. While the survey succeeded in identifying light sensitive objects, it fell short linking individual object’s condition assessment with mount design, and with the proposed presentation on display, a problem that became apparent later and had to be addressed.
We subsequently carried out a light sensitivity assessment of textile and paper based artefacts by microfadometry in collaboration with conservation scientist and conservator Christel Pesme (head of conservation, M+, Hong Kong). This assessment was used to share and promote collection preservation principles within the museum and lead to the integration of conservation requirements with those of exhibition design, by way of a new lighting policy, the rotation and reproduction plans, and the evaluation of LED light sources. We aim to publish the result of this research in the near future. In parallel, a review of the conservation team’s documentation practices, including the file network and photo-documentation, was carried out, and a new network structure was set up.
The conservation treatment phase began in the same year, but had to be put on hold, as there was a waiting period of 6 months due to the review of the proposed museum’s redevelopment by the government. The collection survey identified three major groups of objects by their condition and display narrative, as following: 1. ‘Highlight objects ‘– objects that required a more in-depth conservation research, complex treatment, and resources; 2. ‘Major treatment’ – objects that required structural stabilisation and recovery of visual appearance; 3. ‘Minor treatment’ – objects that required surface cleaning and minor structural repairs, these objects were to be treated in bulk.
The collection survey helped to estimate the work required and the need for external conservators to support this work. The external contractors came from Austria, Germany, France and the UK, and the conservation treatment phase was finally completed in May 2017. Because the conservation treatment phase was compressed reflecting the compression of the overall project schedule, we had to redefine our approach to documentation and photography, changing from extended to a short form of documentation.
The museum building was under construction for the most part of 2016 and 2017, this work was noisy and dusty, the dust coming from inside and outside of the building, and some vibration coming from the demolishing work. This meant that objects had to be packed at each stage of the conservation process, and objects most sensitive to vibration had to be relocated.
The main collection storage located in the basement of the Hofburg palace had to be protected additionally from dust, and, due to the construction work, a temporary storage for the 3000 objects selected for display had to be set up on the mezzanine floor closer to the conservation labs. To provide a quick access to the objects this temporary collection storage was organized by gallery and display case number, a separate IPM protocol was set up for this area.
In 2015, the museum began preparing contract specifications for a tender to refurbish the historic (early 20th century) cases and to build new display cases, for the construction of mounts and installation, and for the light and media design. The conservation team worked together with the science department of the KHM group to define conservation specifications for materials, set up the Oddy testing process for the vendors, and to develop a process for measuring air exchange rate for display cases.
In collaboration with the climate specialists, ASHRAE environmental guidelines were chosen for the historic Neue Burg building, with the aim of refurbishing original historic air channels and using passive methods of environment control. The technical requirements for the display cases were defined to complement the ASHRAE guidelines, and a 3 tier system of cases was set up to reduce the cost and maintenance without compromising the preservation of artefacts.
Display cases designed and built by ARTEX Museum Services were subjected to air exchange tests using carbon dioxide tracer gas. Measurement of concentration of volatile organic compounds in display cases and galleries is ongoing, this work is part of the installation schedule.
The mount development phase of the project was organised by grouping objects by gallery and display case. This phase took into account the information from the curators and the object’s history and condition, and aimed to reflect the anticipated design intent provided by the architects. Mount making company Vienna Art Handling contributed greatly to the process and created safe mounting solutions that reflect the desired visual appearance. For textiles, garments and footwear, all the mounts are being produced by the conservation team.
The mount development phase was not without some difficulties. This was particularly the case with those objects which were assessed only minimally initially, without integrating their cultural significance and condition with the proposed presentation on display. This mainly concerned two galleries, the South Seas Expeditions and Into a New World-North America, where we successfully argued for a change in the representation of historic and culturally significant garments, from flat mounts to mounting on body forms ‘as worn’.
And so, after four years of preparation and anticipation, the future of the Weltmuseum is imminent, and we are pleased to report that the Opening Date is set for the 25th of October 2017.
Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures Working Group
The Objects from Indigenous and World Cultures Working Group is an international group that promotes the discussion and dissemination of information on ethical and technical issues concerning the conservation of ethnographic objects and collections. Indigenous objects represent particular challenges to the conservation professional: from a technical point of view, they are often made of a huge variety of organic and/or inorganic materials, which may be found exclusively in their place of origin; and from an ethical point of view, these objects are linked to a history of use and to the community from which they originated before they were collected by the museum – thus, their care and conservation is to be carried out in a way that is respectful of the object’s history and community of origin.
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