Dialogue

Do you have what it takes to protect your artwork?

We care for our prized artwork possessions by taking reasonable conservation measures to safeguard them, backed by insurance to protect our financial investment. Those of us in California, specifically, Napa Valley, had a big scare this weekend with our strongest earthquake in 25 years. Personally, and selfishly, my first thought was, “Oh no, my collection!” My second thought was more professional: Do we know how to protect our artwork in earthquake country so we can sleep at night?

When I present artwork to collectors, or at exhibitions and fairs, my primary concern is protection. Paintings are professionally framed and hung on sturdy, appropriate weight-bearing hooks. And I place sculptures on secure level surfaces, fixing small objects to surfaces with a temporary adhesion of museum putty or wax. Level surfaces are vital for the safety of all objects, large or small.

For permanent fine art installations, collectors and museums protect objects with mounts, assuming three things: a floor, a ceiling, and walls. If a floor, ceiling or walls are gone, nothing in the world will protect artwork or objects, as even a minor earthquake can cause irreparable damage by the movement and shaking of the earth.

Mounts and tethers are common techniques to keeping artwork safe while minimizing visual distraction for viewers. Contour or rod mounts are used for small objects, taking into account the shape of the object and the angle from which viewers would see it.

A contour mount uses pliable yet stiff material, such as Plexiglas, that can be uniquely shaped to fit the object it will protect. The transparency and narrow profile of Plexiglas can make it imperceptible to the viewer from most angles, and attached to an object with a solid bottom, such as a vase using a piece of filament and screwed into a base from below. A rod mount is perfect for hollow objects, such as a figurine. It is simply a Plexiglas rod perfectly fitted to the object, supporting it from within. For objects displayed in a case, where using mounts is not an option, objects can be protected by lowering the center of gravity and adding weight to the base. For tall objects, platforms are stabilizing options when weight is evenly distributed over a large area. Art that hangs on walls can be tethered to load bearing contact points. If the walls shake, the tether is designed to allow the painting to swing rather than fall.

Our favorite conservation method, though, is the Getty Museum’s 2012 tech response (http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/all-shook-up-protecting-art-in-an-earthquake/) to preserving artwork from damage during an earthquake.

Using specifically engineered platforms, the Getty Museum’s technology absorbs the ground’s movement by isolating an artwork from the movement and mitigating shock engendered by an earthquake. Its design is shared worldwide to protect and conserve intrinsically unstable and irreplaceable works of art.

Nothing is disaster proof, but with some of these tools in place, it could mean the difference between an object getting slightly nudged out of place or completely destroyed during an earthquake.