August 24, 2012
Helen Strudwick, Exhibitions Officer
Of all the elements that happen when setting up an exhibition, possibly the most important (and most time-consuming) is condition checking the objects before the process of displaying them can even start.
When objects arrive at a museum to be installed in an exhibition, they have to be checked to make sure they haven’t become damaged in transit. For the Han exhibition, this meant unpacking and condition-checking around 340 individual items, storing them after checking (before they get put into the display cases), and also carefully storing all the packing materials they came in.
In order to process this work efficiently, we had a large team from the Fitzwilliam who worked with our Chinese colleagues.
Once each object was unpacked, a conservator inspected it and compared its condition against a report prepared in China. We need really excellent lighting for this.
Fortunately, most of our conservation team travelled to China and had seen the objects there before they were packed, so they were already familiar with them and quickly recognised if anything had changed while the objects were travelling to Cambridge. If any changes appeared, our conservators discussed this with the Chinese team and agreed whether anything needed to be done, making a note on the report for when the objects are returned at the end of the exhibition.
The objects were also photographed extensively so that, if anyone has a query about a mark on an object, the photographs will show whether it is a new one or not. Even the packaging was photographed, so that we can tell how everything goes back in its box and how the boxes fit together inside the large crates.
Only once each object is fully checked are they ready to be individually mounted in their display cases.
All in all, including the time first seeing the objects in China, then re-checking them on arrival in the UK, the condition checking process took around 12 days.