Ever since the doors to Lords of the Samauri opened, us behind-the-scene folk have received a lot of questions about what we’re working on now. As much as we would like to, we’re not just hanging around the gallery enjoying the show. At any one time, multiple exhibitions are in various stages of production, not to mention ongoing work with new acquisitions, loans, and the care of objects in storage. But at this particular moment what we’re really gearing up for is the rotation season.
“Rotation” has a pretty specific meaning here at the Asian Art Museum. It refers to the process of periodically removing all light-sensitive works from the permanent galleries and replacing them with fresh works from storage. Rotations occur approximately every 8 months and can involve switching up to 10% of the works currently on view. This particular rotation season is extra busy as we will also be rotating our two current exhibitions, Photographic Memories and Lords of the Samurai, for a total rotation of around 280 objects.
Why rotate? One reason is that as museum professionals, we have a responsibility to preserve these precious objects for future generations. Light is the enemy of many types of art. Objects made of organic materials such as paper or natural fibers, or colored using organic pigments, are irreversibly damaged by light. The effect is cumulative and directly related to both the intensity and duration of exposure.
Now if we really wanted to preserve these objects for the longest possible time, they would need to be kept in the dark at all times. But we also have a second responsibility, and that is to let the public enjoy these works. So we make a compromise: light-sensitive works are displayed for a limited period of time once every few years, under carefully controlled lighting conditions (we don’t make the galleries dim just to vex our visitors, really!). This practice minimizes exposure so that the next generation can enjoy the same works that inspire us today.
Besides allowing us to meet the twin responsibilities of preserving our collection while allowing for public enjoyment, rotations are an opportunity to change up our galleries and keep them fresh. This is a chance to to explore themes not otherwise considered by our permanent exhibitions, to debut new acquisitions, and to show off the depth and variety of our collection.
This summer our Chinese painting gallery will provide an introduction to print techniques used in Chinese art (see Xensen’s great post on the newly acquired reduction woodcut prints featured in this particular rotation). An exciting gift of Korean historical photographs depicting the grandeur of lost palaces will be on view in the Korean galleries beginning July 14. A new selection of Japanese baskets — selected from the more than 1,000 works that constitute the Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Collection — will grace our Japanese galleries. Other changes will bring new sights to the Japanese painting galleries, Himalayan art, and the third floor South Asia, West Asia, and Southeast Asia exhibition areas.
These changes will be happening throughout the summer, during those mysterious hours when the museum is closed. You can find out which works have recently rotated by looking for the blue “Newly on View” icon on gallery labels. And be sure to enjoy these wonderful selections from our permanent collection before our next series of rotations in the Spring of 2010.
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