Have you ever wondered what happens before a museum exhibition opens to the public? The deceptively vacant exhibition galleries and freshly painted walls are actually one step in an extensive behind the scenes process that takes place before the Adler’s historical exhibitions open to our visitors. This process involves concerted activities of curatorial, collections management, experience design, and exhibits staff to bring the Adler’s impressive artifact collections to the public.
The Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy recently installed a short-term exhibition called Planetary Machines that showcases objects, rare books, and works on paper depicting planetary models from the Adler’s historic scientific instrument collections. Here's a quick look into how this exhibition came to life.
The first step in exhibition development is identification of a topic and determining related objects. For Planetary Machines, curator Bruce Stephenson selected striking objects, rare books, and works on paper to represent increasingly complex planetary models. After an object list is complete, curatorial and collections staff meet to determine placement of objects and books in exhibition cases and wall layouts for framed works. Pieces that require conservation, additional preparation time (including returning from off site storage) are also assessed and accounted for in scheduling.
While the curator writes extended label text to interpret the collections pieces in the exhibition and the experience design staff creates templates for this content, collections staff prepare the objects, books, and works on paper for the galleries. We identify and repurpose existing custom display mounts for delicate objects and frame stock for matted works on paper used in previous exhibitions. These custom-made mounts and conservation framing packages ensure the stability and preservation of artifacts while on display. If there is a question about the object’s ability to be displayed safely, conservation professionals are consulted to discuss treatment. For this exhibition, two books received minor conservation treatment and one work on paper received a new step mat.
Once the preparation of the items was complete, we installed Planetary Machines according to the original layouts with assistance from the exhibit technicians and manager. After installation and placement of the pieces is complete, the exhibits team assists with lighting and installation of exterior labels.
The end result, Planetary Machines, supports Adler’s 100 Days of Wonder programming, going on now and continuing through August 23, 2013.
Written by Jennifer Brand, collections manager at the Adler Planetarium