In today’s modern museums, technology is utilised in various ways, from interactive smartphone guides and social media integration and virtual reality experiences. Visitors are spoilt for the range of high-tech exhibits as well as traditional art when it comes to museums. Technology can create another layer of storytelling in museums and galleries as well as increasing the depth of a display. Tech can help museum-goers be more excited and engaged with their surroundings some of the most advanced technology used in world-class museums include apps that are supported by hundreds of beacons that track how visitors interact with displays and feed relevant information straight to the user. Protecting precious items in museums has always been important and technology is facilitating new ways to do so.
Extensive damage to a valuable 17th-century painting was caused by Paolo Porpora, a young Taiwanese boy who accidentally tripped and put his hand through it while trying to break his fall.
The incident shed light to the continuous obstacle faced by museums and galleries to achieve the balance between having displays accessible to visitors but also keeping them away from harm.
This risks are only too well aware by curators and conservators and can be incidental, deliberate or as in this present case, accidental.
So, what could we learn from this scenario and be done differently?
The most difficult to manage are deliberate damage as was the case of the incident that happened in 1987 at National Gallery in London. Despite the Leonardo da Vinci cartoon being protected by a laminated plate-glass screen, it was still damaged by a gunshot fired on purpose.
It is easier to anticipate incidental damages since if often result from the innate curiosity of some visitors about the surface of a material. However, this can be properly managed through the use of gallery attendant, signage, by making visitors aware and understand the damage that can be caused or the use of physical barriers. A discreet and unobtrusive service is often provided by gallery attendant target only on visitors who present a risk. However, it is always difficult for the attendant to supervisor visitor’s behaviour since they are often employed to oversee more than one gallery due to cutbacks in funding.
If paid staff are not always an option to prevent damage to precious items, there are other measures that can be taken. Ensure that all museum showcases are displayed in durable glass enclosures and have adequate support so it cannot be knocked over. You can get advice from a professional exhibition services provider to find out the best display method for your unique objects.
When to touch
In order to provide a more sensory experience alongside an understanding of material and artifacts fragility, an opportunity to handle the artifacts was provided by The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle. However, most visitors often forget the lesson quickly once in the galleries because most of them don’t engage with the education centre.
Interactive contemporary artworks that encourage visitor engagement are great and visitors love to get up close, however it can sometimes cause confusion and visitors may assume all displays are to touch. Technology such as alarms and electrical barriers can provide protection to fragile items. Along with surveillance cameras and digital safety warnings, museums can safeguard their displays.
Many museums have the opinion that barriers usually spoil the look of a gallery and would prefer not to use them. Some years back, technology has been adopted by some museums with the hope of managing the risk without disrupting the gallery aesthetics. At Stederlijk Museum in Amsterdam, visitors are usually alert of their proximity to a painting using an alarm triggered by laser. It is perhaps not surprising that the trade-off between noise and aesthetics has not been universally taken up. Lasers and bulletproof glass are technology that all museums should employ to ensure the safety of exhibits.
The kids are not all right
Ivan Hewett who is an art critic suggested in 2014 after a young girl was allowed to climb on a Donald Judd sculpture at the Tate Modern that “children should be banned from galleries”. It is also hard to disagree with what Sociologist Tiffany Jenkins said about museums turning into playgrounds. Perhaps, the current problem is that fewer people care about its impact on others or seem to appreciate the value of proper behaviour.
Training of staff
Museum staff is the ones with the most responsibility in creating a safe environment. They should always engage in slips trips and falls training to know how to prevent damaging accidents from occurring. Ensure staff knows how to access healthcare equipment in the event of an accident and equip them with technology such as radios and other communication equipment to quickly talk to the managing office.