Installation and Protection of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting
Chinese calligraphy and painting is a unique art form of the Chinese nation in the history of the millennium. Not only formed its own unique method, connotation, aesthetic orientation, but also has a special form of mounting. Generally speaking, it is a well-known three main forms, namely hanging scroll, hand scroll, and album.
The ancients appreciate the calligraphy and painting, they may be hung the hanging scrolls in the living room, just hold up with a forked stick and hung it on a knocked in nail on the wall, to allow family members and relatives to watch. Hand scrolls and albums are mostly privately viewed. They would be usually appreciated among friends, in the gatherings of the students and the scholars, while the viewers might also create poems and wrote colophons. This traditional way of appreciating Chinese calligraphy and painting, can be seen in the existing painting colophons, or in paintings such like the “West Garden Gathering”. When the party is over, the hand scrolls and albums would be put back in the camphor boxes, or wrapped in cloth or colored brocade silk bags. Therefore, when the museum takes these artworks, which were mostly private, to the public, they face a problem of how to present them. As it is said, just like The Eight Immortals crossing the sea and each showed a supernatural power. Each museum would create their own ways to present the artworks. In this case, I would like to share the experiences accumulated from the last 30 years of practice at the China Institute Gallery in New York as an example to briefly describe how to install and protect the Chinese calligraphy and painting through the exhibitions.
There are two most important points in this procedure: one is to achieve the effect of the appearance of the artwork; the other is the protection of the artwork. As the saying goes, people rely on clothes, horses rely on saddles, and paintings rely on the wonderful frames. The installation of any artwork has to rely on auxiliary means of display. The first thing to consider is how to preserve the original look of the calligraphy and painting, and to show the most exciting part. Since the calligraphy and painting is the main character, the display materials or methods just serve as an assistance, of course, cannot take over the master. Therefore, the installation of calligraphy and painting, under the premise of safety protection, should be based on minimizing the use of supporting materials.
First of all, if all the calligraphy and painting works are not stored in the presenting museum, but are transported from outer venues, it needs to stay for at least 48 hours before it is opened, to allow them adapting to the temperature and humidity of the new environment. In order to avoid any hidden damages that may happen to the paper, silk, and framing materials in the sudden changes of the environment.
插图1。过高立轴的上部陈列法 fig.1. Detail of displaying the top of a hanging scroll
插图2。立轴下部固定法 fig.2.Detail of displaying the bottom of a hanging scroll
Install and protect hanging scroll
In general, on the top bar of the middle of any hanging scrolls, there is a string for hanging, which makes the hanging scroll seems the most easily displayable item. But in the museum, it cannot be as simple as just put a nail on the wall and hang the scroll up. First of all, we must determine its height. The height of this suspension is based on the height of the center of the entire exhibition hall, which is the most comfortable height in the audience's vision. According to the experience of American museums, this height is generally between 58 and 60 inches. If a hanging scroll is at its conventional height and its existing suspension string is used, its center height is just around this range, then, it is very simple to find such center height and drill a hole, put in a nail, and hang the artwork up. If it is an overly tall hanging scroll, it may be necessary to adjust the two ends of the scroll to achieve this uniform central height. When the upper end of the hanging scroll needs to be rolled up, some museums use a big plastic roller with one slide opening to insert top rolling bar and strings, then roll it up together with the painting till its desired height then secure the plastic roller to the wall. That should be safe. But intuitively, the plastic roller is too prominent, which compete the beauty of the hanging scroll itself. Therefore, for many years I have advocated that all display materials that are close to the exhibits should use as little or no plastics as possible. I feel that plastic material is contrary to the material and temperament of the ancient artworks in terms of perception and sense, and creates a gap in the viewing effect, and thus insist on using natural materials to show.
Many years ago, my exhibit designer invented using the original wooden stick (fig.1.Detail of displaying the top of a hanging scroll), about two to three inches in diameter (as needed), after polishing, cut to a slightly wider size than the hanging scroll's top bar, then leave the center part unpainted but painted the both end to match the color of the showcase or the exhibition halls. If the painting's top bar is sixteen-inch, than the stick could be 22 inches. Outside the 16 inches bar, each side has three inches that need to be painted with same color as for the exhibition. Then drill a hole in the center of the three inches. Wrap a layer of acid-free tissue on the unpainted 16-inch portion of the original bar, this piece of paper could be slightly shorter than 16 inches so that the edges will not be exposed. Then take it to beginning of the hanging scroll, roll it together with the painting carefully and till reaches the right height, and then secure the both side of the three inches bar with a screw, in its reserved holes. When both sides are fixed, the hanging scroll is stable, and the painting itself is naturally exposed. Because the two ends of the assisting wooden stick are painted similar to the color of the display case, or the exhibition hall, so the audience's eyes naturally draw to the painting itself, but do not see much man-kind of effort. If the lower end of the hanging scroll is too long, it can be rolled up directly to the desired place, and then the two spindle roller heads could be fixed with a circle of thick wire. One end of the wire is nailed to the wall, and the other end wrapped with a transparent soft plastic tube that hooks and holds the spindle rollers (fig.2.Detail of displaying the bottom of a hanging scroll).
After the entire hanging scroll is suspended, it is generally necessary to reinforce the two or three small L-shaped nails equidistantly on the left and right side of the painting. One end is nailed into the showcase, and the other end is covered with a transparent soft plastic tube, pressing the edge of the hanging scroll. It is to prevent the hanging scroll from hanging too long to be slightly curved, in addition, it also keep the necessary distance between the painting and the Plexiglas, preventing the paintings to be sucked to touch the inside Plexiglas cover when the static electricity generated in cleaning the outer cover, which is unfavorable to the protection of the painting. During the whole process of displaying the hanging scroll, all nail holes must be measured in advance. After the painting is positioned, use pencils to mark those required points (only pencils are allowed), then remove the painting away to allow the place to be cleaned. After remove all the dust, then hang the painting back in place and cover it with a clean Plexiglas cover as the final protection.
插图3。立轴陈列法 fig.3. Frame and display a hanging scroll
It is to be noted here that many museums have permanent display cases, so when display the hanging scrolls, usually, just need to determine a height, and then could hang a row of them in the cases. The China Institute Gallery does not have these convenient permanent display cases, but gain the other favorable condition to create the independent space for each painting with an exclusive "picture frame", and thus, encourage the audience to pay attention. The way we display the hanging scrolls: we usually build four-side wooden frames on the wall. The wooden frame must be at least two to four inches in depth from the painting surface, depending on the diameter of the scroll ends, to guarantee there would be certain distance between the painting and the Plexiglas cover. After the painting is hung, covered with cleaned Plexiglas sheet and fix it on the wooden frame. Then add four strip of wooden beams with the same color as the exhibition wall to cover the nail holes around the wooden frame. In this way, the man-made traces are minimized, so that each painting is in its own space, reveals its own appearance, and integrates with the entire exhibition (fig. 3.Frame and display a hanging scroll).
插图4。手卷展柜 fig.4. Showcases for hand scrolls
Install and protect hand scrolls
There are two types of showcases for hand scrolls in our practice. One is independent showcases that could stand alone by itself in the exhibition hall; the other can be built and attached to the exhibition wall. For either one, the height of the showcases is generally about 38 inches high, and the depth of the display platform could be determined by the height of the painting. After the display case has been painted into the same color as for the exhibition, wait at least one week until the paint is completely dry. On the platform of the case, it is generally possible to place the hand roll directly, or add a layer of flat cloth wrapped in linen to increase delicate effects and protection. This plate can sometimes be supported at an angle of 10 to 15 degrees, so that the hand scroll is slightly reclined, especially when the height of the hand scroll is too high, and is placed close to the wall, the picture is not easy to see. We can consider taking this demonstration step with a small ramp and set a wooden strip at the bottom of the ramp to allow the hand scroll to sit on (fig.4.Showcase for hand scrolls).
插图5。手卷陈列法 fig. 5. Installing method of hand scroll
Our method of fixing hand scroll is also simple. At the end of the hand scroll, there is a small pin with a string, we would first wrap that in a small piece of acid free tissue paper, and rolled up. This method first is to prevent the pin swings from the rolling, and more importantly, to prevent the pin from contacting with any part of the painting directly, and also it would be rolled more smoothly and firmly. We usually use a natural colored linin ribbon that is less than one inch wide, cut to a size slightly longer than the height of the hand scroll. If the hand scroll height is 10 inches, the ribbon can be cut to at least 16 inches. Leave three inches on each side and place this ribbon cross the hand scroll from the very beginning of rolling to the point where it needs to be shown. Then flatten and straighten the ribbon, leave three inches apart on each side, tuck the edge of the ribbon as folded and fix it with prick, a fat headed nails to the platform of the showcases, usually three nails on each side to secure this side of the handscroll. Then slowly open the hand scroll to the other side (usually to its left side). Because the other side is the solid roller, there is no space to cross the ribbon and roll in the same way. Instead, it must use a cut ribbon, the same material and a little longer length to be pulled diagonally across the scroll shaft and fold the ends of the ribbon fixed with prick nails to secure. In addition, because this solid end of the hand scroll is generally heavy, many museums are supported this end with the circular shaped plexi stand, which is so obviously seen. We generally use one or two two-and-a-half or three-inch pins, wrap it with transparent plastic tubes, closely against the hand scroll’s shaft to reinforce it. Also to prevent the surface of the long hand scrolls been warped in the duration of the display, the small L-shaped pins with plastic tubes usually equally spaced on both side of the hand scroll’s edges that slightly pressing the edges of the painting to hold it in place. During this entire procedure, the hand scroll must be positioned to make all the marks with pencils, and then remove away the painting to punch the holes, dust the display surface, cleaning, and finally put the painting back in place, and after cleaning the display case's plexi cover, to finally cover the showcase with at least three different types of safety screws. If the screws are exposed and the entire surface of the display case is obstructed, the screws may be painted in a similar color to match the display case. In this way, a hand scroll installation is finally completed (fig.5. Installing method of hand scroll).
插图6。册页陈列法 fig. 6. Installing method of album
Install and protect an album
The entire album may only show the front cover, or two pages up to the opposite side, and then lie or rest flat on a slightly angled display stand. However, the albums in most museums have been separated for ease of presentation. Some of them are two opposites, one for painting and one for poetry. In this case, the two openings can be first put into a paper matt and then displayed. If two opposites are open, one is a painting, and the other is a blank page, if they can be folded, then folded to put them in the paper matt. If they cannot be folded, then both sides are matted into the same paper frame. The matted album leaves will be easier to display either upright on the walls or in a slightly angles in the showcases. The ones could be displayed on the walls, first, need make a wooden frame on the wall, and then sit the matted albums on a wooden strip, though in the early stage, we also used Plexiglas as a stand, till later notice the abrupt of the plexi materials, we changed to more natural materials such as wood. Then secure the matted album leaf from its edges with a few L-shaped pins which is wrapped in clear plastic tubes. Finally, covers this showcases with a clean Plexiglas sheet with wooden beams on the four sides of the cases and fasten with security screws (fig.6.Installing method of album).
插图7。特大横幅陈列法 fig.7. Installing methof of larger banner
Install and protect large banner
In 2016, when I was doing the exhibition “Art in a time of Chaos: Masterworks from Six dynasties China”. There are two pieces of "Seven Sages of Bamboo Forest" rubbings of Xi Shanqiao from the Nanjing Museum. They have been framed into banners, each 82 centimeters high and 238 centimeters wide. The top of the banner has three small silk rings at equal distances, which can be nailed and hung. After the discussion, our plan was to make a wooden frame on the wall according to its size, with a width of 250 cm. On the upper and lower wall panels in the frame, arrange small magnets at equal distances to press the upper and lower sides of the banner to make it flat. Those magnets were previously painted to match the color of the painting. This requires positioning all those spots with a pencil marks first, then on each spot put in a nail on the wall panel and to meet the magnet, and then affixing MYLA, a transparent hard plastic paper, placed between the artwork and the surface of the display case in order to prevent any paint residue that might occur to the artworks during the long exhibition period with the changes of temperature and humidity. Then, on the left and right sides of the banner, 6 cm away from the wood frames, use a L shaped flat iron piece nailed to hold the both end of the banner, with a soft chip in between to protect the painting. After done all of these, finally, cover the entire showcase up with cleaned plexi glass sheet with nails to the wooden frame, and use the same colored wooden beams to cover the joins of the wooden frame and the plexi glass to give a unified look (fig.7.Installing method of large banner).
照明是展示艺术品的点睛之笔，也是书画陈列的最后一步。现在博物馆一般都用声控照明，依有无观众自动给光。但首先仍要调整好给每件作品合适的光线，显示其精彩，并将亮度控制在5至10 foot-candles 之间，这是美国博物馆界通用的一个标准。其它日常的保护，是温湿度的控制，一般是在50度左右（华氏），上下不超过5度（可依具体材质调整）。如需特别保护的，可在单独的展柜中置放Silica gel, 或beads，一种在独立展柜中局部调整湿度的材料。另外，展柜的护罩一般都是有机玻璃，擦拭时很容易产生静电，如艺术品太贴近，会有被吸附的可能，所以，一般要使用专门擦拭有机玻璃的清洁剂，可抑制静电，以作日常的维护 (我们常用的如Brillianize牌的清洁剂, 和Kim wipes牌的防静电的擦拭纸巾) 。
Lighting is the crowning touch to showcasing art and is the final step of installation. Nowadays museums generally use voice-activated lighting to automatically give light to audience. But first of all, it is still necessary to adjust the appropriate light for each piece of work, display its wonderfulness, and control the brightness between 5 and 10 foot-candles, which is a universal standard for American museums. Other daily protection is the control of temperature and humidity, generally around 50 degrees (US standard), up and down not more than 5 degrees (adjustable according to the specific material). If special protection is required, the Silica gel or beads also can be placed in a separate display case, a material that help to adjust the humidity locally. In addition, the protective cover of the display case is usually plexi glass, to prevent generating static electricity for sucking the artworks during wiping and cleaning, it is necessary to use the special cleaner and wiping materials that restrain electrostatic for daily maintenance (we often use “Brillianize”brand plastic cleaner and “Kim wipes” anti-stat polyshield).