Furniture, Textiles & Fashion
July 19, 2013

Mock-ups follow pin-ups in our schedule. They have been one of the most important activities in helping us to arrive at our final selection of museum objects to be displayed in the galleries. They are occasions where we bring together the museum objects that have been selected to feature in a specific display and lay them out in the way that has been proposed by our designers ZMMA.

At times, we use cardboard substitutes in place of actual museum objects. This avoids having to move large pieces of sculpture or furniture about the Museum and also helps to ensure that we handle particularly delicate objects as little as possible. The mock-ups took place in two phases. During Phase I we were most concerned about deciding upon the basic selection and layout of the objects and so the use of a number of object substitutes did not significantly hinder our ability to discuss and make initial judgements. The purpose of Phase II was to allow us to look more closely at the minutiae of the displays and the requirements of the objects. For these mock-ups a more concerted effort was made to include as many real objects as possible, to enable us to make judgements in relation to their physical actuality. When looking at the following some of the following photographs you may be able to guess which mock-ups occurred earlier on the process than others.

The process requires plan-reading skills and the ability to make good use of scale rulers(!)

Mock-ups are an opportunity for all of the Project Team to view the actual objects together in the same physical space. This allows us to see more clearly how successfully certain groupings of objects work together in reality – visually and practically, as well as theoretically. The mock-up process can result in the addition, redistribution or removal of certain objects as well as a re-thinking of how to make best use of the display and gallery space.An example of the dramatic differences in scale to be addressed

Although the role of Curator encompasses all activities involved in overseeing the care of objects, for many people the word ‘curator’ conjures up visions of exactly the type of activities that occur at mock-ups, as we experiment with positioning objects in different arrangements to decide how they can be displayed to best effect.Discussing objects related to Spain and South America

In my role as Assistant Curator (with my colleague Barbara Lasic), mock-ups can be a period of much activity. Once a mock-up has been scheduled we need to identify and book the space in which it can be held (including assessing its suitability for different types of objects). By speaking with curators and conservators, we then determine which of the objects in the display are able to be brought along. For any objects which can’t be included, suitable stand-in objects need to be found or accurate templates need to be created (using paper and card, which won’t risk damaging other objects at the mock-up). In preparing for some mock-ups it felt as though we had been cast adrift in a sea of brown paper, card and sticky tape, as we attempted to create everything from boxes, to hunting horns, gauntlets and jewellery. I can’t emphasise enough how much we appreciated the help that some of our volunteers gave us with this process!

We also liaise with the different collecting departments to organise the transportation of objects from different areas of the Museum to the mock-up location (and subsequent collection). Deciding upon the most sensible routes for objects to be moved through the Museum’s vast network of galleries, stores and corridors to different mock-up locations can sometime feel like trying to navigate them through a labyrinth.

Before the session, we prepare copies of the most up-to-date plans from the designers to guide us in trying out the proposed layout. We use these to mark out the exact space that a display will occupy (including any plinths and walls) and the exact dimensions of the case display area. Once the mock-up is in progress, the work continues as we ensure that all comments and discussions are sufficiently recorded and that all proposed layouts for the display are clearly photographed.

Despite (perhaps even because of!) all the preparation work required, there is always an excitement to overseeing the arrival of such a variety of objects as they converge at a mock-up, having travelled from the Museum’s different collections and store rooms (sometimes even different buildings!). After lots of research and administrative work (with the inescapable hours spent looking at computer screens and seemingly endless lists of facts and figures) mock-ups provide a pleasurable reminder that all of our work will result in actual displays.

Baskets of Metalwork objects

In addition to the visual and theoretical concerns of a display, we also identify and discuss the display requirements of individual objects. The environmental needs of an object, such as the levels of light and humidity it to which it can be exposed, may affect its suitability for inclusion in certain spaces. Consideration is also given to how objects will be supported when they are on display, some for example, will require a purpose-built mount to support or hold them securely in a specific position, and others may simply benefit from being placed on a small block to make them easier to examine.

A mace that will require the creation of a specific mounting system

This mace (above) is an example of an object that will require the creation of a specific mounting system to hold it upright (Kirstin is an example of how well curators can also provide this function!).

Charlotte Hubbard, the Conservation Department liaison for Europe 1600-1800, examining a small ivory snuff rasp

This photograph shows Charlotte Hubbard, the Conservation Department liaison for Europe 1600-1800, examining a small ivory snuff rasp which has the option of being displayed closed, or open with the rasp showing.

One of the key issues that guide curatorial decisions on the display of objects is that of size and space. Although the galleries are impressively large, there is a finite amount of space within them. Additionally the budget implications and physical qualities of display cases influence how many objects may be included in certain displays. Whilst it may be tempting to try to cram in as many wonderful objects as possible into each display case, the positioning of objects and how they share the space together is what can enables a display to communicate successfully its messages to visitors. Consideration also has to be given to how objects will work with interpretative text in the galleries. The photograph below shows how we used rough label templates to ensure that there would be enough space for each object in the display to have some form of label. NB: The chance positioning of a label for the Penitent Magdalen next to a flask depicting a bacchanalian scene was entirely accidental(!).Record shot from a mock-up of the Drinking display

As previously mentioned, in some instances we were unable to include certain real objects at mock-ups. Some objects are particularly large or awkward to move, or are currently stored away from the main Museum site. Others are extremely fragile or in the midst of having conservation work carried out on them and so have strict restrictions on how much they may be moved about (no matter how carefully it is carried out, every time a museum object is moved it is at risk of damage). To overcome this, we created paper templates and put together inventive stand-ins for objects we couldn’t bring to mock-ups.

The waistcoat you can spy in the background of this photograph belongs to one of our Furniture curators and provided a basic yet handy stand-in for this dazzling yellow number.

A mock-up of the Rococo display, with a dazzling waistcoat in the background

Man’s waistcoat, yellow satin embroidered with coloured silk and silver  thread, England, 1730-1739 (V&A 202-1906)

Our departmental kitchen may have at times been found to be missing a couple of jugs and some other bits and pieces.Two stand-in ewers

Here, an Assistant Curator conjures up the suggestion of some early 17th century armour, so that we can get a sense of what effect its presence may have on the layout of an adjacent display case.

Creating paper armour

To avoid subjecting larger objects, such as furniture and sculptures, (and our ever helpful Museum Technicians!) to excessive or complicated moves, we would usually tape an outline of the space they will occupy rather than include the actual object. However on certain occasions it was decided that the inclusion of some key large objects was crucial to informing our decision making.

Here you can see Hercules (V&A A.17-1933), looking slightly less magnificent than usual, being uncrated at a mock-up in what will be The Cabinet (Gallery 6) space. Alongside him you can see paper templates indicating the footprint of some cabinets.

Hercules at The Cabinet mock-up

This particular mock-up also resulted in the arrival of this intriguing soft-wrapped crate.

Who or what could this be?

With these eyes peering out through the polythene …

The peering eyes ...

It is one of our more curious objects – a marble statue of the head of an ox on a tree trunk!The head of an ox, sporting some 'ear-muffs' to protect his horns

Here he is as previously displayed in the galleries.

Head of an ox, marble and wood, North Italian (Paduan), second half of the17th century (V&A 60-1882)

We have been lucky enough to be able to use the actual empty gallery spaces for the majority of our mock-ups. This has allowed us to get a greater sense of the relationship between the size and architecture of the overall space and the objects. It has also helped us to have a clearer idea of how different displays will be physically positioned in relation to each other. This has enabled us to see where links can be made and emphasised between separate displays.

Displays are often mocked-up on multiple occasions, in order to assess if earlier edits and suggested adaptations will work successfully. For mock-ups that took place in the gallery spaces we used masking tape to mark out the spaces of cases, plinths and walls. The remains of criss-crossing tapes on the floor are a testament to the amount of change the layout of some areas has undergone.

Masking tape remains

Admittedly not as interesting as Jim Lambie’s use of tape on floors! []

At times circumstances have led us to hold mock-ups in a variety of alternative spaces – forr example, if objects are too delicate or awkward to bring to the galleries or if construction work or events in the Museum made it unsuitable for us to be moving objects about.

With some particularly fragile objects, if they couldn’t come to us, we went to them. Here two of the Concept Team are in the Sculpture Conservation Studio, looking particularly focused as they consider the positioning of two sculptures by Bernini (A.93-1980 and A.29-1984).'Mini-mock-up' in the Sculpture Conservation studio

The photograph below shows an early mock-up of the Dutch Domesticity display in the galleries. Textiles feature quite heavily in this display but weren’t suitable for taking into the dusty gallery space. As initial discussions were focussed more on the thematic organisation of the display, we carried out early mock-ups using tyvek sheets to create stand-ins for the textiles.

There must be some kind of ‘how many curators does it take to change a lightbulb/candlestick?’ joke to caption this photograph …

Undertaking just one mock-up of a display is usually not enough to enable us to resolve queries and make informed decisions about objects and their display. Early mock-ups may raise questions that need time to be investigated and whose answers warrant further discussion (for example, what might be the conservation and display implications if a cabinet were to be displayed open rather than closed?) As a display is further developed and refined we need to focus more on the specific physical details of its layout. This makes it vital for us to include as many actual objects as possible in subsequent mock-ups, to ensure that our decisions were made using the most accurate information available. In the case of the Dutch Domesticity display, we therefore carried out subsequent mock-ups in other spaces that were more accommodating to the textile objects.

At all mock-ups it is necessary to use some imagination to block out the some of the surroundings and imagine the objects sitting in the midst of the new design of the gallery spaces (which doesn’t yet exist!). When it came to mocking-up this section of the Neoclassism display, the majority of the objects were kept in stores close to the Metalwork Department offices and so it was more pragmatic to hold the mock-up there. In this photograph you can also see how we were already thinking about which objects may be shown to their best advantage by being raised up on blocks.

Neoclassicism display mock-up in the Metalwork offices

Some of the objects required for the mock-up below are currently on display in a gallery open to the public. To avoid having to take them off display and move them around the building, we held a mini-mock in an adjacent gallery space on a morning before the Museum opened to the public. This led to Louis Auguste Bisson’s mid-19th century photograph of the Louvre, Bibliothèque Imperiale (V&A 35.756) providing an interesting temporary accompaniment to objects relating to Napoleon. In this photograph you can also get a glimpse of the display case plans we consult when initially setting up the mock-ups.

Napoleon mock-up in the public galleries

We embarked on our first mock-ups over a year ago and during our busiest periods were undertaking two a week. Now that we are further along in the design process, they take place less frequently but are still extremely productive and informative as we focus in on the minutiae of each display.

About the author

Furniture, Textiles & Fashion
July 19, 2013

I am an Assistant Curator working on the development of the new Europe 1600-1800 Galleries. My interests are wide-ranging but subjects I have particularly enjoyed exploring for this project include:...

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