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Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Installing Unframed Prints

by Conservation


Lorna Simpson , women breaking boundaries , waterless lithography , light sensitivity , behind the scenes , conservation

For those of you who saw Women Breaking Boundaries before the museum had to close its galleries, you would have seen the wall-sized piece by Lorna Simpson, Wigs.  This installation of 39 prints on wool felts was a group effort, with the Installation Department, Curator of Prints and Paper Conservator working together to hang the pieces in the correct orientation.  This is the third time Wigs has been shown since the museum purchased it in 2007.  The curator developed a detailed sequence of steps, from removing the prints from their original artist-designed storage box, to laying them out in order on a plastic sheet on the gallery floor, to hanging them. 

The preparators worked in pairs to position each print, make sure that it was level, then drive pins through the original holes in the felt to attach it to the wall.  The paper conservator’s role was to take detailed notes about the installation to add to what was written when the prints were displayed in 30 Americans in 2016.  The notes will aid the crew the next time the prints are hung, saving time and a lot of head-scratching as we try to remember the steps we took to hang this 72 inch x 162 ½ inch installation.

Usually with works in the Print Department, a major concern for the time the pieces are displayed is their exposure to light.  While the light levels on these prints on felt is consistent with the low levels we usually use on works on paper and textiles, the conservator’s worry was that if the prints were displayed for longer than the usual 3-4 month exhibition time, the felt would begin to distort.

The bottom corners of some of the felts have curled out slightly from the wall, but the curling also occurred during 30 Americans.  Installation photographs of Simpson’s prints on felt from other museums show the same level of minor curling.  So far, the felts have not stretched around the pins at the top corners, so the conservator is confident that Wigs will be safe on the wall until we return to the museum and can put the prints back in their box.


Related: Behind the Scenes in Conservation: New to Women Breaking Boundaries