Recently Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) moved the entire collection, some 5,000 pieces, from the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art into temporary storage after a burst pipe caused water damage to the museum floor and drew attention to a larger issue requiring immediate attention.
No artwork was damaged in the process and the museum is scheduled to re-open in January. “Steichel/Warhol: Picturing Frame”, an exhibition scheduled for this fall, has been pushed back for the museum’s re-opening and will run alongside “The Left Front: Radical Art in the Red Decade, 1929-1940”, the exhibition previously scheduled for January.
While the artwork, primarily prints and photographs spanning hundreds of years, is in storage, the museum will undergo improvements to its lobby which had already been in the planning stages.
When storing art, it is imperative to use climate-controlled storage only. Photographs, textiles and canvas will each absorb moisture. Using storage with a constant and moderate level of temperature and humidity will help to prevent warping, curling and yellowing of prints, photographs and paintings as well as prevent any buildup of mold and/or mildew on the surface of the works.
Canvases should always be stored standing upright, rather than being laid flat, and off the ground. Wooden pallets are easily available and affordable and are an excellent tool for getting your stored art off of the ground. Nothing should be allowed to rest against the front or back of a canvas. When storing multiple works, arrange them with the largest against the wall and then descending by size. Place a piece of acid-free cardboard between each work.
All stored art should be wrapped. Acid-free paper or bed sheets are ideal for wrapping air as these will breathe, allowing for the air flow over the art necessary for the prevention of moisture buildup. Wrapping should never be attached directly to the artwork.
Photographs should be kept in airtight, plastic containers, wrapped in acid-free, archival paper. Never use newspaper for wrapping photographs, or art of any kind, as the ink can transfer to adjacent surfaces over time. Photographs being put into storage should also be well organized and their containers properly labeled to make finding a specific photograph easier. The less you handle your pictures, the better the condition in which they will remain.
Photo negatives should be kept in albums designed specifically for negative archiving. Negatives can be even more susceptible to atmospheric conditions that the photographs themselves, so proper storage is the only way to ensure photographs can be reprinted at a later date.
Those in charge of preserving the works of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art have no doubt taken all necessary measures to ensure their collection is well protected until it can be returned to the walls of the museum. By following these steps you can help protect your own collection of art and photography until you’re able to hold you own, at-home exhibition.