Greek and Roman Gallery Project in January 2010
This month we really had our work cut out for us to be ready in time for opening on 27th January. We had hoped to have two months to install objects with a clear galllery, after the contractors from Reier and MER had finished work. Instead we had three and a half weeks, and the team from MER were still on site! From the moment the department came back after Christmas until the day of the opening everyone was working six or seven days each week, and several volunteers were drafted in to help.
One of the first tasks was to get all the remaining heavy sculpture installed. We had booked a team from local stone masons Rattee and Kett to help with this, but inevitably it took longer than planned. We needed to co-ordinate with MER, who were fixing the wallplates for the objects on the walls and finishing off plinths, before we could put the sculpture in position. We had hoped to finish installing the heavy sculpture on Tuesday 12th January, but we were still working hard at 5pm on Friday. The team from Rattee and Kett were wonderfully helpful and flexible about their time.
At the same time, we were busy installing objects in display cases. We were pleased to find that most of the cases worked as planned, with almost all the objects fitting in as we wanted, but there were still several small adjustments that needed to be made in the object arrangement and the heights of shelves. At the end of each day, Lucilla and I would go home to finish writing the short object labels to go at the bottom of each case. Fortunately, our newly appointed exhibitions officer, Helen Strudwick, then took over the formatting and printing of the labels, leaving us to get on with the next case.
In the last few days before the opening the gallery was full of people. Lighting designers were focussing the lights, both overhead and in the display cases, and electricians were replacing fuses. MER was installing the graphics holders, and the graphics designers were mounting the graphics panels. Object number transfers were being put on the edge of every shelf in the display cases. At the same time, the Antiquities staff were repositioning objects, finishing the conservation, cleaning and tidying, as well as clearing the Cyprus gallery of storage cases, and cleaning and re-painting in there too.
Miraculously, it was all finished in time for the press preview during the day of the 27th and the opening party in the evening. After the opening party we then had two days to make last-minute corrections before the public opening on Saturday 30th January. There are still a few adjustments to make over the coming weeks, but I'm proud to say that all our hard work paid off, and the gallery looks fabulous.
This month I have been helping Kate and Lucilla install objects in the showcases, as well as carrying out last-minute adjustments to objects that have already been conserved. The lighting conditions in the conservation lab are very different from those in the gallery, so retouching that looks good in the lab sometimes looks dreadful when the object is put into a showcase (or vice versa!). Fortunately, a minor adjustment to the colour or texture is all that is usually needed.
For this reason, I have left the retouching of the fills on the Clazomenian sarcophagus until the end of the project, so I can do it in conditions that are as close as possible to the final display conditions. The fills that I made last month are strong and supportive, but they don't give a good surface for painting on. I covered these fills with a thin layer of Fine Surface Polyfilla, to level them off, then covered them with pieces of Japanese tissue paper, cut to fit. As the picture on the left shows, the paper has a texture that is very close to the rough surface of the sarcophagus, and that is more sympathetic than Polyfilla or plaster would be. The paper-covered fills were painted to match the surrounding decoration: from close-up they are easily distinguishable from the original material, but from a distance the overall effect is quite harmonious.