By Charlotte Gay, Display and Exhibitions Trainee
Charlotte spent the first few weeks of her traineeship helping with the installation of Kiss & Tell: Rodin and Suffolk Sculpture. Here is part 2 of her blog documenting the process. If you missed part 1 you can read it here.
Setting the stage
Once the display cases were in their final positions, it was time to dress the gallery. This meant installing design elements such as the marble-effect banners, which gave a sense of grandeur to the space and perfectly framed the cast of Michealangelo’s Tondo.
My personal highlight of the installation was getting to ‘top off’ the Gates of Hell, a work by Rodin that is intrinsic to the story and creation of The Kiss. Despite the fact Rodin began work on The Gates of Hell in 1880, it wasn’t until after his death in 1917 that the first two bronze casts were made. Both sets of doors were commissioned by Philadelphia theatre entrepreneur Jules Mastbaum who gave one set to the Musée de Rodin in Paris. The other cast now stands at the entrance to the Rodin Museum in Masbaum’s hometown of Philadelphia. As both versions would have been far too big to fit through the gallery doors, Exhibitions Officer Jane had the ingenious idea to print the sculpture onto low-tac vinyl wallpaper and apply it to the wall. Ipswich Museum was kindly given permission to use the image by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was lucky enough to be given the task of installing the figures of the three shades on the top!
The Kiss arrives
Now the stage was set and The Kiss arrived with all the pomp and ceremony of two cranes and half a dozen technicians from the Tate, who previous to their arrival in Ipswich had accompanied the sculpture on its first ever tour of Asia. It took the best part of two days to move the 3180kg marble masterpiece into position (that’s about the same weight as 7 polar bears!). Due to its enormous size, a specialist plinth from the Tate had to be constructed around it. This arrived in multiple parts, which fitted together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle.
With the main attraction in place, it was time to welcome the other items on loan from the Tate, the Britten-Pears Foundation and The Fitzwilliam Museum. Finally, the gallery was filled with objects from Ipswich’s own collection. A favourite item of mine from the exhibition is a sculpture by Rodin called ‘Movement de danse’ (1911) or Movement of Dance (pictured here on the right), on loan from The Fitzwilliam Museum. Unlike Rodin’s more famous sculptures, which are classical in style, I found this one particularly interesting because of its surrealist representation of the human body.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Next it was time to light the gallery. Lighting plays an important role in any exhibition. Not only can it be used to set a specific mood within a space, it is also essential for conservation purposes. As Conservator Bob explained, UV and LUX light levels had to be controlled in order to prevent the deterioration of objects, such as the colour pigments used in paintings.
After light levels were fixed, finishing touches were made to the gallery. Text labels and wall graphics were installed, and any final ‘snagging’ jobs were corrected in time for the arrival of BBC national and ITV regional news crews.
Finally, opening night arrived and The Kiss was unveiled to the people of Ipswich for the first time. In less than four weeks, the gallery had been utterly transformed. It had taken countless hours of hard work and collaboration between museum staff, building contractors, Tate technicians and of course, the Exhibitions team to set the stage for Rodin’s showpiece.
For me, the best part of being involved in the installation process has been seeing what an effect the exhibition has had on the local community. From the child who was awe-struck by the size of the sculpture to the woman who cried when she first saw it, it is great to think that The Kiss continues to cause a sensation wherever it goes.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Kiss & Tell: Rodin and Suffolk Sculpture on display at Christchurch Mansion until 28th April 2019.