Tru Vue for Galleries: How To Protect and Exhibit
Whatever size gallery you are and whatever artform you exhibit, all works deserve the best care and attention in order to fulfil a longer lifetime on display looking their best. Art is a personal and unique investment and the more measures you take to protect your work – and the more knowledge you can impart onto your customers about how they can do the same at home – not only are you helping your artist’s work thrive, but you are also providing quality service by educating your industry and clientele.
Alisa Vincentelli is Tru Vue’s International Museum & Conservation Liaison. With a thorough background of expertise in Modern and Contemporary Art conservation at established National collections such as The Tate; contemporary art spaces like BALTIC; auction houses like Christie’s; and museums and historic houses such as The Bowes Museum, we wanted to learn a thing or two from Alisa about how best to protect our art investments in the gallery.
Tell us about your journey to becoming the International Museum & Conservation Liaison at Tru Vue?
In the early ’90s, after taking a degree in Classics and Archaeology in London, I volunteered at the Conservation department of the Byzantine Museum in Athens, and the experience of working on Greek Orthodox Icons there really confirmed my interest in pursuing a career in the field: I loved the hands-on contact with the art, the sense of connection to the artist, and the privilege of being entrusted to provide and care for the wellbeing of these cultural objects into the future. I spent the next four years in post-graduate study of easel paintings conservation at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and subsequently developed a specialism in Modern and Contemporary Art. I’ve worked as conservator for National collections such as The Tate, Contemporary art spaces like BALTIC, auction houses like Christie’s and museums and historic houses such as Auckland Castle. After working as Head of Conservation there in 2016, I moved to my current role with Tru Vue, manufacturers of optically coated fine art glazing, in 2019.
Could you give us a brief insight into Tru Vue’s ethos and its role in the world of conservation?
Tru Vue is well known amongst museum conservators worldwide, having consistently focused for many decades on providing museum-quality glazing products to the high testing standards that conservation professionals demand. Our Conservation Liaison team includes myself, based in the UK and working across Europe, my colleague Yadin working across the Americas, and our two colleagues Sharon and Hilmi based in Asia. When it comes to the care and longevity of artworks and making sure they look their best whether displayed on a gallery wall or a domestic situation, the principles of preventive conservation are key to making optimal display choices. We work together with museums, galleries, collectors, framers and artists to listen to their needs and share our expertise and advise on the variety of products suitable for particular or challenging display needs.
Trusted professionalism and a firm commitment to supporting education define our approach; we sponsor various professional development opportunities for art conservators, and run museum project grants through the Institute of Conservation UK and others. We offer lectures, attend and support Conservation Conferences such as IIC (International Institute for Conservation) and ICOM CC (International Council of Museums Committee for Conservation), and we publish a broad range of articles related to preventive conservation and display on our website and through our newsletter.
What are the most common conservation methods used in the gallery industry?
The measures we take to avoid and minimise future deterioration and future need for interventive treatments, form the cornerstone of the conservation profession. Securing a safe, pest-free and reasonably consistent environment for artworks, minimising light and dust levels, and applying protective display measures such as framing and glazing, and ensuring proper handling can successfully contribute to a sustainable approach to preservation.
The most common treatment is perhaps one of the least glamourous; removing the dust and dirt deposits which unprotected works inevitably accumulate. It often involves working in situ at height on a genie lift, using soft wide goat hair brushes alongside specially adapted vacuum nozzles and face masks, and particular cases can be rather challenging , for example Damien Hirst’s fly painting works (made by gluing thousands of fly bodies onto canvas) – not the most pleasant task!
“Conservation treatments are specific to each artwork and require careful testing procedures each time.”
Many unprotected artwork surfaces will at some point benefit from a studio surface cleaning treatment to remove the more stubborn, oily component of dirt deposits that build up and adhere to the artwork, obscuring tonal balances, dulling colours and darkening whites. If allowed to accumulate, dust, spills and stains can become forever a part of the surface structure of artworks (particularly on exposed unpainted areas or barely dry oil paint) being tricky or even impossible to fully remove during conservation.
Conservation treatments are specific to each artwork and require careful testing procedures each time. No conservator ever really carries out exactly the same treatment twice! And while the essentials of the conservator’s toolkit are: clear perceptive abilities, a firm grasp on critical decision making, and a patient steady hand, conservators also need to keep up to date with new technologies and methods constantly in development (the use of nanomaterials and lasers for example) as these constantly expand treatment options.
If price was no concern, what conservation measures would you highly recommend?
Of course not all art needs or is intended to be framed, however probably the single most beneficial preventive measure to take (once the basic requirements of a secure and broadly consistent temperature and RH environment have been met), is to frame and glaze securely with UV blocking, shatterproof glazing and apply a simple inert backboard.
Choosing an experienced, qualified and conservation-aware framer will ensure the frame design complements and protects the artwork securely. There are a whole range of glazing options out there, but paying a little more to best protect artwork from the start, can play a determining role in its condition going into the future.
I’d recommend Optium Museum Acrylic glazing for most projects. It brings together an ideal combination of conservation and aesthetic qualities. This protective glazing offers enhanced transmission and reduced reflection due to its atomically bonded optical coating (reducing distracting reflections down to around 1% – standard glass and acrylic reflect around 8% of light). The UV blocking quality is of the highest at 99%, and this protects the art from the particularly harmful invisible UV portion of the spectrum we don’t actually need to ‘see’ with, and which can contribute to irreversible damage such as fading.
Using shatterproof glazing avoids the risk of damage by cut glass shards due to all-too-common accidents in handling and during transit. Optium also offers in addition anti-static properties, abrasion resistance and it is lightweight, with excellent age-tested longevity.
Spending a significant amount on just one portion of the frame package can seem excessive, but in the long term, the benefits outweigh the cost. After all, the glazing is the window to your artwork … you want it to look and perform superbly!
Prior to your role as International Museum & Conservation Liaison at Tru Vue you worked in many established contemporary art galleries, you must have a few entertaining conservation stories to tell?
Conservators have many tales to tell it’s true; from household-name artworks left accidentally in taxis on the way to the studio to installation art being unwrapped only to find nesting mice or other guests that have made a home there during transit, some of them simultaneously dining on the artwork! One particularly funny story comes to mind involving the unpacking of a piece of Fluxus art by George Maciunas – ‘New Flux Year’ 1967, just one of 350 works being checked for exhibition installation prior to the collection being gifted to MoMA New York. Looking like a rather unassuming box with a tab on the side opening simply marked ‘Pull’ this artwork proved just too tempting that day. Upon pulling the tag a coiled snake popped out of the top amongst a shower of confetti printed with ‘’New Flux Year” which promptly sprinkled the surprised (and heavily bearded) curious technician top to toe! After struggling to collect every last tiny paper, restraining my usual conservator’s dismay at such unscheduled artwork activity, and re-assembling the joke piece (which is I believe the only remaining version still with its confetti), we were left rather amused by our impromptu involvement in the artists’ prank. I’m sure that Maciunas would have chuckled too; after all the Lithuanian-born American founding member of the movement had famously described Fluxus activities as “the fusion of Spike Jones, Vaudeville, gag, children’s games, and Duchamp.”
Can you recommend any particular advice for pop-up galleries or travelling exhibitions?
Whenever artworks are travelling and being handled more frequently they are at increased risk of damage. The following are just a few basic tips, as it does depend what is travelling, where and how, but try to;
- Establish a clear understanding of the work’s condition before travel; a conservator’s report is best, particularly where the item is of high value.
- Consider (where appropriate) having a backboard applied and framing with shatterproof UV glazing to help protect from environmental changes, dust and accidental impact from the face and the reverse.
- When packaging the work take care to ensure no contact is made between the artwork surface and the packaging material. Packaging materials can off-gas and leave imprints on, and become adhered to artworks.
- Label artworks clearly with an identification number or code, sticking labels to the outside of the packaging only. Including step by step unpacking instructions on the exterior of the box or crate can help prevent over handling and potential damage.
- Wear clean gloves at each venue when handling the art and secure with appropriate fittings for the size and weight of the work.
“…Engaging in productive dialogue and generating greater understanding and awareness of conservation is always a privilege.“
What have you most loved about your work as a conservator?
The opportunity to really engage in a close-up and ‘personal’ study of an artwork, not just as an object of beauty or inspiration, but an idea in material form. Sometimes that connection and observation time is intense but fleeting (as with the case of condition checking and installing huge multi-artwork exhibitions), sometimes it is in the quiet slow progress of the conservation studio, treating one painting for days, weeks, months, or even longer. Often however what can really feel most valuable, is the chance to share our rather unique conservator’s viewpoint, whether that is with curators, technicians, registrars, collectors, gallery audiences, or the artists themselves; engaging in productive dialogue and generating greater understanding and awareness of conservation is always a privilege.