What is involved in dismantling an exhibition?

When a temporary exhibition closes, the work doesn’t stop there. Have you ever wondered what happens when a show is over? The people responsible for dismantling our exhibitions explain the many things that have to be done.

ISABEL CENDOYA – Exhibitions Coordinator

Taking down an exhibition involves two weeks of intense work: checking the condition of the pieces, taking them off the walls or out of their display cases and packing them securely for transport. At the same time, it also means the end of a process, of a project to which you have devoted many hours of effort, and saying goodbye to objects you have probably been living with for weeks and months.

As far as the exhibition coordinator is concerned, the job is basically about managing the teams that carry out all the dismantling tasks. A timetable is drawn up with the transport company for the reception of the couriers (qualified personal of the lender museum that accompanies the museum’s works during trips) and the dispatch of the works.

Team coordination.

A schedule of work is then prepared on the basis of the dispatch timetable so that the pieces can be inspected jointly by the conservation and restoration team and the couriers, who will also supervise the packing to ensure that the pieces are transported properly. It is also very important to organize the dispatch of the pieces in conjunction with the museum’s security staff. Then, once all of the pieces have been removed from the exhibition rooms the firms who will dismantle the temporary display structure they were exhibited in get down to work.

By the end of the whole process the exhibition space has to be left perfectly clear, ready for the setting up of the next show.

EDUARD VALLÈS – Conservator and curator of the exhibition “Picasso vs. Rusiñol”

As a rule, the curator usually has very little to do with the taking down of an exhibition. There are exceptions, though: for example, when the curator is a member of the host institution and this has a relatively small number of staff. In these circumstances the curator and the exhibitions’ coordinator may well be the same person, and he or she will be involved in both processes.

Works packed.

One of the most striking impressions for the curator during the dismantling of an exhibition is watching one of its key aspects, its physical implementation, disappear completely. The whole team has a similar feeling, but in the case of the curator, who is generally the one who has thought the project through from the beginning, from zero, this sensation is particularly intense. The creation of the discourse, the selection and often the research of the exhibits and the writing of explanatory texts and labels, among others, will have represented a huge amount of work that does not disappear with the dismantling of the show.

Fortunately, there remains the catalogue, and the new technologies that allow a visual and audio-visual record of the exhibition to be kept. Normally the curator will have been very closely involved with the communication and publications departments in the creation of these materials that will extend the exhibition in time. To the extent that curators are well aware of the ephemeral nature of the exhibition’s existence, they increasingly attach more importance to these mechanisms that will conserve the discourse, often in virtual spaces.

ANNA VÉLEZ – Restorer

During the dismantling of a temporary exhibition the department responsible for the preventive conservation and restoration will inspect the works that have been on show. The “condition report” will detail the state of conservation of each piece to ensure it is in the same condition as it was when the exhibition was set up.

Details of restoration work at the museum.

For this report to be complete it must include the technical details of the piece, a description of its conservation status detailing any changes that have occurred, the necessary graphic and photographic documentation, the parameters within which the piece must be kept, such as the lighting (the maximum amount of lux), relative humidity and temperature, a description of the packing system and materials, and the system of presentation required, among other things.

When the works are sent with a courier, he or she will be present at the inspection with reference to the “condition report” and the taking down and packing for the return of the work will be carried out with the specialist technical team. In other words, many of the people who originally received and installed the works meet again during the dismantling process.

A temporary exhibition usually brings us into contact with works from other museums, collections and institutions… It’s always an enriching experience to collaborate on the setting up and taking down with the professionals who work with these pieces — which often we have only seen in pictures — and share their knowledge and personal insights with us.

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