After hearing the Museumís Senior Curator, Wendy Blazier speak on the Mary Cassatt: Works on Paper exhibition, I became enlightened to the quandary she and other Curators have when choosing works on paper to exhibit. I was one of the masses who consistently complained about the low level of illumination for works on paper in gallery spaces.
For the Boca Raton Museum of Art with an extensive collection of art works on paper the dilemma faced when exhibiting these works is ongoing. The balance between the visitorís visual enjoyment and the protection of the artwork taxes the dual mandate of conservation and exhibition.
It is common for museums to set standard exhibition durations for works of this type. These seem to have a rather broad range from 4 weeks per year to six months per year. In a demonstration project published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Christopher Cuttleís research resulted in a major shift in envisioning museum lighting. Using a filter with three bands of colored light instead of one monochromatic light source reduced the energy which causes degradation. This type of lighting will probably inflict less photochemical damage at equal illumination and duration. Another large contribution was the Getty Conservation Instituteís project to review, analyze and recommend new techniques for illuminating works of art on paper:
Although technology and the understanding of light qualities have advanced tremendously and will continue to address this problem, the fact remains light damage cannot be stopped or reversed.
Although I am now a convert to low illuminated gallery spaces I wonder if there is a solution for the institutionís to satisfy the visitorĎs high visual expectations? Is there a way to educate visitors so that they come to appreciate this dilemma?