The ARTIST ROOMS Collection has over 1,600 artworks, drawn from a wide range of media. It is a uniquely active collection of modern and contemporary artworks in comparison with the wider museum sector, having a remit to continually tour the UK, with 143 exhibitions since 2009.
My role as Collection Registrar for ARTIST ROOOMS is to manage the logistical aspects of the collection and the tour. The active nature of the collection can present us with particular challenges for the long-term care of the individual artworks however, like all good collection care policies, ours focuses first and foremost on prevention and the key principles align with Tate & National Galleries of Scotland’s wider collection care policies. In practice this means that we look at each artwork individually and assess how to manage the particular risks to the work in order to preserve it for the long term.
We plan our tour to ensure that the needs of the works are taken into account. Some works, in particular works on paper and photographs, require low light levels whilst on display (measured in lux) to keep the images from fading. Part of ensuring the safe care of our works means looking at how often some of the more light sensitive works are on display, and therefore how much light exposure they are receiving. We may therefore only show the more fragile works once or twice in a three year tour.
Most works in our collection require stable temperature and humidity levels to ensure the materials don’t deteriorate. Specialist art transport agents work with us to ensure the safe movement of works from storage to galleries and we ensure works are packed safely for travel, designing bespoke packing when needed. All of this is discussed with the galleries we work with in the planning stages of their exhibition, well before their exhibition is installed. With some works in our collection there can be other challenges too.
I like to refer to one of the ARTIST ROOMS aims as ‘putting big things in small places’. At least it sometimes feels that way. One of the major logistical challenges (and one of the most fun parts of my job) is to work out how (or sometimes if) we can get some of our biggest works into a gallery space. There are some wonderful triple-height, vast exhibition spaces in the UK, with a lift only big enough to take a small painting or an interestingly-angled doorway with a wall a metre away. Seeing a work up in a space after a particularly precisely planned install, is a very satisfying aspect to my job.