Stolow, Nathan, Conservation and Exhibitions, Butterworths, London, 1986, 288 pages.
NATHAN STOLOW'S BOOK Conservation and Exhibitions is the first major publication devoted entirely to the exhibition of works of art, a welcome contribution to the profession at a time when the number of traveling exhibitions is increasing each year. There are many articles on related topics, a fact which is made obvious by the extensive list of references, but no one has provided so much information in a single publication. The book will undoubtedly be used as a basic reference by many museum professionals.
The first five chapters cover examination procedures, condition reporting, matting, framing, handling, and storage. These chapters should be a review for most conservators but will provide useful information for museum professionals as a whole. The text is well organized and commendably free from unnecessary jargon. Stolow's description of the effects of relative humidity and temperature on various materials is particularly worthwhile. I must take exception, however, with the examples of condition forms for travelling (special) exhibitions. The book promotes the use of forms which require the examiner to simply check or circle pre-listed condition problems. This approach may be adequate for collection surveys, but it is woefully inadequate for special exhibitions. When dealing with borrowed objects, as is the case with most special exhibitions, it is essential to know the number of condition problems of a given object and their precise locations.
My strongest objection is with the content of chapter six, “Traditional and Newer Packing Techniques.” Without a word of caution, the book advocates the use of packing cases in which paintings are transported horizontally. In my opinion, paintings should be transported vertically in almost all situations and a publication directed at such a diverse audience should emphasize this fact. My second criticism is that this chapter does not adequately address the static loading of cushioning materials, i.e., how much cushioning material should be placed under and around a work of art. In fact, Stolow's only comments on the topic are misleading. He states that as “a general rule the cushioning material should be compressed no more than halfway. If there is too little compression, the material is too hard for effective vibration and shock damping.” While these statements effectively caution packers not to use too much or too hard a cushioning material (a mistake frequently made because many packers and conservators feel that if some foam is good, more foam must be better), the first statement implies that the proper loading of the cushioning material should compress it about halfway. This has not been my observation. I have found that most cushioning materials are only slightly compressed when properly loaded. To ensure that a particularly fragile work is supported by the correct type and amount of cushioning material, the packer must make fairly simple calculations, using the technical data available from the manufacturers or publications as a guide.
The following chapters, “Case and Container Design and Construction” and “Controlled Environment Travelling Cases and Their Monitoring,” are both very good. In all fairness to Stolow, the topic does not easily lend itself to a simple explanation. A very minor addition to his discussion of instruments for monitoring temperature and humidity in travelling cases would have been mention of the electronic monitoring devises now available which require little space for installation and are less fragile that hygrothermographs.
The chapter on “Controlled Case Environments for Exhibitions” is basically a description of how various environmental problems have been solved in the past, using case by case examples of special exhibitions. This is a very good chapter; it presents a wealth of information in a succinct manner and provides the reader with remarkably good footnotes for further research.
Like the first chapters of Stolow's book, the last ones cover material generally useful to a wide array of museum professionals, i.e., transportation, special exhibition gallery design, loan agreements, conservation standards and guidelines, insurance, vandalism, and fire. The text is presented in a concise and intelligible manner and I believe the information will be useful to persons either establishing or re-evaluating their procedures.
On the whole, Conservation and Exhibitions is a valuable text providing useful information on a topic that has been too little researched. With few reservations, the book can be recommended as a basic reference. The chapter on packing techniques, however, is weak and requires, in my opinion, both revision and expansion. As research on the packing and transport of works of art continues, the required revisions may prove to be major ones.MervinRichardNational Gallery of Art Washington, D.C. 20565