Every so often, exemplary objects enter the collection, which enhance and diversify the museum’s holdings as well as present new challenges for Cantor Arts Center staff. Such was the case for Stanford, a four by nine foot photograph by Beijing-based artist, Shi Guorui (b. 1964). Its sheer scale presented storage issues as well as concerns over the exhibition of the artwork. Faced with these dilemmas, Center staff turned to local experts for their advice and guidance. This is a two-part post contributed by Curatorial Assistant Mariko. Here she presents possible strategies for exhibiting and storing the photograph; stay tuned for her post describing the hybrid strategy that the Center staff ultimately devised!
The process of mounting and exhibiting Stanford began in fall 2009 with conversations between the Center’s Curator for Modern and Contemporary Art, Conservation Manager, and Matter/Framer. These discussions raised practical questions such as how often the photograph might be shown as well as the long-term effects of rolling and unrolling the artwork for exhibit and storage. Together, the staff proposed two options:
1) Mount the photograph on aluminum panel.
This was the likely option for three reasons. First, the Center’s Matter/Framer was familiar with this system having wrapped photos by Gail Wight on aluminum for a recent exhibition titled From Their Studios.
Second, mounting on aluminum panels is a technique that has been used to exhibit Shi Guorui’s work in the past. Finally, this technique would facilitate both storage and exhibition by enabling us to hang the image flat on a screen as we would with our paintings. With this approach, one would simply remove the artwork from the screen and install it on a wall each time it needed to be exhibited. The main problem of storing something this large is the issue of space (i.e. storage real estate).
2) Use heavy-duty magnets to hang the artwork.
Colleagues at local institutions suggested this alternative as a relatively simple, noninvasive, and affordable hanging approach. The magnets are cheap, reusable, and unobtrusive (often the same color as the photograph’s border). If they are placed at short, regular intervals, they tend to hold the photograph flat in the same way a frame would. One drawback is that this method leaves the photograph without a clear protective layer, exposing the unglazed photograph to the elements and curious visitors. Moreover, in the case of the Shi Guorui’s Stanford, the magnets would have to sit directly on the image because the photograph does not have a white border. The only drawback being that the process leaves the unglazed photograph vulnerable to the elements. Below is an example of this method which was used on a photograph by Joel Leivick. To the right, you can see the magnets on the border of the photograph as well as where a metal plate was attached to the gallery wall.
With each hanging option, the photograph either takes up valuable storage space or occupies a large surface each time it needs to be unrolled and flattened. Unfortunately, we discovered that both approaches could not work entirely, and in the end we devised a system that combined the benefits of both. See part two of this post to learn more!