It's already been two weeks since the Raphael exhibition opened at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands, where I did my internship for seven weeks during the summer holiday.
While I was there,I learned a lot, from how to cut a window mount board to how to drive a trolley. (It may sound silly, but it is one of the crucial skills at the museum. You need to be able to drive a trolley properly not to damage your objects on it. And you'll find that it is not easy!) But in this post, I'm going to talk about the installing of drawings in the exhibition rooms.
Once the drawings were framed, they were carried into the exhibition rooms to be hung on the walls. At the Teylers Museum when they install the objects, they work with a lady whose expertise is hanging objects on the walls. At first I didn't understand why they needed a special person to install drawings, because I thought that hanging objects is a simple, easy work. But I was wrong. If you don't care about how the objects are hung on the walls, maybe it's a quick job-just put a couple of screws on the walls and place the objects. However, if you want to organize the objects beautifully and present them in a nice way, this is a quite difficult and complicated work.
The installing of the drawings was one of the last things to do in the exhibition preparation. After the old exhibition was removed, the new walls were built and painted, and blow-ups were pasted onto the walls before the drawings were taken to the rooms. You don't want to handle precious drawings when the paints are still wet and the room is very dusty.
Once everything is set, papers cut to the same sizes of the frames were adhered onto the walls to indicate the position of each drawing, which was arranged by the curators and the designers of the exhibition. Then the heart line was decided. The heart line comes to the middle of each object, and this time it was going to be either 150 cm or 160 cm from the ground. Some of my colleagues said that 160 cm was slightly too high. The reason for the 160 cm heart line was their expectation to have a large audience. When there are many people around a small drawing, the people in the back may not be able to see the drawing well. Hanging it a little bit higher will help them to see it better.
Before you start drilling the holes on the walls, obviously you need to measure the heart line and the distance between each drawing. Then keeping everything absolutely perfectly straight, you drill the holes, screw, hang the drawing and secure it. There are approximately 90 drawings and paintings for this exhibition. All of them were installed by the lady mentioned above by herself (one of my colleagues assisted her, but she did the main job, like measuring).
In this exhibition, about one third of the objects came from other museums-many of them were from the Albertina in Vienna (it was a joint project between the Albertina and the Teylers Museum). These objects from the other museums were transported in large crates, and either a curator or a conservator from these museums came to the Teylers to do the condition check with the conservator from the Teylers. A report had been made for each object before they left Vienna. Once they arrived at Haarlem, again, each drawing was thoroughly checked according to the report by both conservators. Once this process is done, finally they were ready to be installed on the wall.
From taking drawings out of crates to hanging all of them on the wall, it took about one week. Considering the number of the objects and the people working for it, I would say that it was done very quickly. I was amazed by how efficiently she hung drawings, one after another. After that, the lighting and the captions were set around each object. And it was made sure that everybody was happy about the display before the opening.
I was involved in only the last bit of the preparation. Although the working time was only from 9:00 to 17:00, except the very last days before the opening, I sometimes felt very exhausted. A framed drawing can be quite heavy. During the installing week, I needed to stand for whole day and walk around the museum carrying heavy objects, tools, machines, etc. No wonder some of my colleagues at the workshop run or cycle very often...
To be perfectly honest, at some point, I also felt, "This is enough, no more Raphael!" Still, it was one of the privileges to see beautiful drawings very closely before they were framed. And I found they were even more beautiful in nicely and properly designed exhibition rooms.
I really hope that you will have a chance to visit the exhibition, because it is awesome! Even if you cannot make it to the exhibition, if you go to the Netherlands, please look for a poster with the Madonna holding the Child and a lovely small book. That is ours, the exhibition I worked on! It is open until the beginning of January.