How important is space when you are planning for an exhibition? The collection sits within a Grade II listed building, which is a building of special interest with approx. 92% of all listed buildings in the United Kingdom this class. Does this affect how you plan the layout and displays of the collection?
I cheated slightly in that we built a new exhibition space, dodged all the listing restrictions. We have our new exhibitions space downstairs which has a 21st-century feel. It has new lightings. It’s one empty space that we can build within each exhibition, everything is demountable and it’s incredibly flexible. So it’s really interesting from a visitor experience approach because in the house aesthetic, which is incredibly immersive and decorative. And then you go into the temporary exhibition space and you're in a contemporary exhibition feel with painted walls, and much more spaced out selective hand, something that’s been carefully curated. There’s a bit of that tension that Yuriko has mentioned, that big gear change for visitors to move from that space. Something that has allowed us to do in terms of moving the permanent collection down into the temporary exhibition space, so selecting objects from our collection as part of a curated loaned in collection means that we can give them that space to look at them in a very different way, out of their highly dense and decorative environment. It really gives us an opportunity to look at that.
We have our new exhibitions space downstairs which has a 21st-century feel… selecting objects from our collection as part of a curated loaned in collection means that we can give them that space to look at them in a very different way, out of their highly dense and decorative environment. It really gives us an opportunity to look at that.
Clare Simpson, Head of Exhibitions, The Wallace Collection
We work with exhibition designers and graphic designers on the 2D and 3D elements in the exhibition space. We look at the wayfinding and the narrative of the exhibition, so we can really go in a give it a full visitor-based approach in terms of the exhibition space. The permanent collection has a very different kind of aesthetic to it, in that there is no planned route around the collection. It relies heavily on a self-guided visit and the element of self-guided discovery. But that said, we have done a coupled of little displays within the collection. We did the big show with Manolo Blahnik. We try to find these opportunities within the permanent collection where we can rotate or hang, obviously with the listing in mind. Not necessarily just the listing, it’s really how densely decorative everything is. So moving something on the silk walls, or moving something that it isn’t obscured by a piece of furniture. They’re all challenges we’re looking at now that we want to create more opportunities within the permanent collection space. We have a menu of different channels, different layers, different ways to experiment and explore. The listing and access are the two biggest challenges.
Access-wise, do you move the works during opening hours?
We don’t have a day of the week that we’re closed. That does make it challenging especially for Yunsun and the curatorial team to inspect objects or move them around because everything on view permanently. We try and do as much out-of-hours as we can. We open to the public at 10am, so we kind of have a working window between 7am to 10am where we can try to move things out and reopen, as if fairies came at night and moved things around. We’re also lucky enough in that if we do have to eat into the public opening time for an hour or so, there’s enough of the collection to see while we work on one room.
On keeping the art collection in optimum condition - conservation, restoration, and preventative measures, does the condition of the artwork affect where it is displayed in the building? For example, a particularly fragile artwork, what do you do?
Yes and no. Even though this is a listed building, we have an air-conditioning system for all the galleries in whole museum. We do control the environment, so in theory, we shouldn’t have areas where we couldn’t display certain items. I would just say one thing, when it comes to light, if we have very vulnerable paintings like watercolour or paper items, we may avoid the south-side of it where the direct sunlight might actually touch the items.
We don’t only condition check them, we also have an active pest management, so we set up pest traps so we know if there are certain items that might be attractive to certain insects. Although we control the environment, sometimes it is not perfect, so if we feel this area is a little more humid than we would like, and it’s a more optimum condition for the insects, every insect have their lifecycle, we might put in more time to housecleaning, and we might put more pest traps in certain places.
We have sensors that records humidity, temperature, UV light, and light levels. We do that throughout the building, 24/7.