Care and Handling of Artwork at Museum of Glass: Protection from Thieves and Vandals and Disassociation

By Rebecca Engelhardt, Registrar/Collections Manager

As part of our ongoing series on the care of artwork at Museum of Glass (MOG), this post reviews the methods that we employ for protecting our collections from thieves and vandalism.

When not on view, artwork at MOG is stored in a secure space with limited access.

When not on view, artwork at MOG is stored in a secure space with limited access.

It is always a delicate balance between putting artwork out for visitors to enjoy today and protecting pieces for future visitors to appreciate. This explains the myriad of Plexiglas® vitrines and metal barriers you often encounter in MOG’s galleries: they protect artwork while it is out on display.

Dale Chihuly’s artwork from our exhibition, Origins: Early works by Dale Chihuly, 2009, rests safely inside Plexiglas® vitrines in the gallery.

Dale Chihuly’s artwork from our exhibition, Origins: Early works by Dale Chihuly, 2009, rests safely inside Plexiglas® vitrines in the gallery.

Sometimes it is not possible to fit artwork inside a vitrine, so we use metal railings (stanchions) to encourage visitors to stand back and enjoy.

Sometimes it is not possible to fit artwork inside a vitrine, so we use metal railings (stanchions) to encourage visitors to stand back and enjoy.

Lots of artwork comes in and out of MOG for our exhibitions and storage in our Permanent Collection. Each of these objects is logged into our database and tracked as it makes its journey.

Screen shot from MOG’s The Museum System database.

Screen shot from MOG’s The Museum System database.

Goblets from the traveling exhibition Lino Tagliapietra in Retrospect: A Modern Renaissance in Italian Glass are tagged for inventory control prior to deinstallation at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., 2008. This ensures that each piece is packed in the correct box and tracked as it is shipped to the next venue.

Goblets from the traveling exhibition Lino Tagliapietra in Retrospect: A Modern Renaissance in Italian Glass are tagged for inventory control prior to deinstallation at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., 2008. This ensures that each piece is packed in the correct box and tracked as it is shipped to the next venue.

Registrar/Collections Manager completes condition report of work by Fred Wilson from the exhibition Mining Glass. Before pieces of art are packed and shipped, each component is inspected and any concerns or details are noted on the condition report. The process is repeated after the piece has arrived safely at the next location, and ensures that the artwork stays safe.

Registrar/Collections Manager completes condition report of work by Fred Wilson from the exhibition Mining Glass. Before pieces of art are packed and shipped, each component is inspected and any concerns or details are noted on the condition report. The process is repeated after the piece has arrived safely at the next location, and ensures that the artwork stays safe.

The information tracked by the Museum not only forms the historical provenance of the artwork, but is invaluable in the event of a loss or damage that either requires repair by a conservator or filing an insurance claim.

These methods of inventory control also protect against a condition called “disassociation”. Disassociation results from the natural tendency for ordered systems to fall apart over time. Objects in museums which have been separated from their history or meaning have limited historical or cultural value.

For example, the amazing installation Landscape, created by artists Ingalena Klenell and Beth Lipman in 2008-2010 (now in the Museum’s Permanent Collection) and composed of over 400 individual pieces of glass, could become a pile of scrap glass if it was separated from its inventory control sheet and installation map.

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Or this bowl, which we know is made by Barovier & Toso, one of the oldest Venetian glass families, loses its significance if we don’t retain that information for future generations of museum staff, researchers, and visitors.

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Much like those photographs of mysterious ancestors that find their way into antique shops,if you don’t know their names and the names of their descendants, the photos lose much of their historic value.

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Stay tuned for more posts from MOG’s curatorial team, including protecting art from fire, water, and pests!

Rebecca Engelhardt is the Registrar/Collections Manager at Museum of Glass. Her background includes ten years at MOG, plus time at major museums such as Smithsonian Institution and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

One thought on “Care and Handling of Artwork at Museum of Glass: Protection from Thieves and Vandals and Disassociation

  1. Pingback: Care and Handling of Artwork at Museum of Glass: Protection from Fire, Water, and Pests | As the Pipe Turns

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