The Arts of Asia gallery at Auckland Museum was first installed in 2008, and is tucked away on the level one mezzanine. At first glance this gallery appears dim, but as the sensor lights turn on, the gallery comes alive with stories from the diverse cultures across Asia.
The Object Rotation team started work in the Arts of Asia gallery on September 2016, where 34 objects were identified by Conservation as being ‘at-risk’; these included a range of dyed and embellished textiles, ivory, wooden statues with pigment, and personal adornments. Like organic goods, collection objects have a ‘shelf-life’, determined by the Conservation Blue-Wool Lightfastness test. This test projects the time it would take for an object under prolonged periods of exposure to artificial lighting to degrade or fade, causing irreversible damage. Lighting guides are based on a number of contributing factors in each gallery. Types and levels of lighting, an object’s previous exposure to light, the condition of the object materials, cultural considerations and the presence of colorants are all evaluated. The guide helps to determine the recommended time an object should go on display, versus the time it should rest. Above you can see that we have had to change out a series of ivory Okimono figurines from Japan. Ivory is especially susceptible to yellowing, and can develop an unwanted patina if it suffers light damage.
Arts of Asia is woven with traditions as it showcases examples from different times and places and how art becomes a part of a culture's fabric. The stories of the gallery are functional, symbolic and sometimes romantic. Korean wedding ducks are the best example of this as they are stand as symbols of fidelity, peace and procreation. Traditionally, a wedding gift in Korea was a set of live ducks as ducks were known to mate for life. As live ducks were not a practical gift for many newlyweds, carved wooden versions were made to replicate the same idea, however in recent years they have become a potent form of symbolism of marital harmony or disharmony. The ducks are used as outward expressions of the husband and wife, and if the couple is fighting, one or both ducks can be turned away to show disagreement or the female duck can have a red ribbon tied around her bill to show that she is silently agreeing with her husband.
The Object Rotation Team's role is to identify objects on display that are light-sensitive and exchange them with other objects from our collection, to continue to tell the stories of our permanent galleries. The refresh of the gallery was a collaborative effort between Associate-Curator Applied Arts and Design, Jane Groufsky, and the Object Rotation team. The change out gave Jane the opportunity to re-frame the gallery, to tell stories by object typology-rather than geography. This look gives visitors the chance to compare material examples from India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan with their own distinct styles of embellishing, weaving, dying, printing and painting techniques. The wall of textiles shows examples of material culture from countries across Asia and how different communities created and decorated textiles as part of customs or daily life.
The idea behind this wall of textiles is to give the objects a three-dimensional feel, as well as, to support the shape of the textiles as they hang. The Museum's display team had the challenge of creating adjustable mounts that left the gallery's walls untouched as the 1929 original building cannot be modified. As a result, only the existing holes seen on the gallery walls are where new mounts can be attached. Mounts were made to be adjusted and supported with padding to accommodate for the unevenness. The mounts are two-fold, with one part affixing directly to the wall to create a straight and strong surface; the second part supporting an object on a 45 ° slant board.
Through managing a stable environment and maintaining the integrity of the stories of our exhibition objects we are ensuring that the Museum continues to practice sustainable handling with the collections entrusted to us, and we uphold the Museum’s role as the kaitiaki (guardians) of objects in our care. The work of the Object Rotation team is on-going and we are currently working through other galleries on a smaller scale, focusing on minor refreshments across the Museum.
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Post by: Megan Denz
Megan is a Collection Manager, Human History and works as part of the Gallery Rotation Project team.