Creating a gallery during a pandemic


Design, Architecture and Digital
June 14, 2021

When we last posted an update from the Design 1900—Now gallery it was in autumn 2019 and we were preparing the decant of the old 20th Century Gallery. Little did we know then that our plans to open the refreshed Design 1900—Now gallery in summer 2020 would be scuppered by a global pandemic.

In autumn 2019 we diligently went about the task of returning the many museum objects back to the collection stores, cleared and cleaned the gallery spaces and building contractors started the process of updating the existing display cases, lighting and seating. When Covid-19 forced the closure of the museum in March 2020, most of us started working from home, learning how to communicate with colleagues exclusively via Teams and engaging with objects only via our collections database, rather than in person. Considering that a big part of putting together a collection gallery involves direct access to the collection – to check an object’s condition, measure, clean or even just to see how something looks from behind or underneath – this was a peculiar time in which to put the finishing touches to a gallery project.

© Livia Turnbull

With the closure of the museum, staff furlough and some uncertainty around the scope and timing of reopening of the museum, the project therefore had to be pushed back a year with a new opening date set for summer 2021.

Since returning to in September, we have stepped up work on the gallery again, revisiting objects lists, going over conservation and display requirements, finalising labels and setting up a plan for gallery install. All of this work has been undertaken in circumstances new to all of us, where only some of the team is in some of the time, the rest of us working from home as much as possible. It has meant that processes such as receiving objects into the museum, photographing them or taking them to the conservation studio has been more difficult and has taken more time and planning than usual.

© Johanna Agerman Ross

When we started installing in the gallery in April this year stringent Covid restrictions even meant communicating via walkie talkies when placing objects in the large case to prevent more than two needing to be inside at any one point. If objects required multiple people for carrying and installing we worked in specific bubbles to avoid interacting with too many colleagues in any given week.

© Johanna Agerman Ross

It is fitting then that the curatorial narrative of Design 1900—Now is focused on design and society and how designed objects reflect the times in which we live. There are labels in the gallery that talk about very recent history including the coronavirus pandemic and heightened calls for social and racial justice. There are many new acquisitions that speak of this time of upheaval.

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So interesting especially about learning about the gallery in a COVID 19 pandemic .

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