Jaś Elsner and Stefanie Lenk are blogging from behind the scenes during the installation of the Ashmolean Museum’s exhibition Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions, opening on October 19th.
Jaś Elsner, 5/10/2017, installation day 4
Much activity. Conservators, curators, movers, museum staff, contractors. The exhibition team in place to determine which way round to put an object, what position, what height. The galleries are pools of darkness with shots of bright light – of course the final exhibition lighting comes last. Moments of frenetic action; and then long pauses. Coffee.
The spaces, the walls and colours, are all in place and well-defined; but largely bereft of objects: a strange kind of gallery experience. All of it very like the final setting up of a set, the frenetic action of costumes and lighting prior to the dress rehearsal of a play.
Now comes the installation of the object that stars in the promotional material for the whole exhibition. They remove the British Museum’s footprints of the Buddha from their case, taking off the beautifully shaped sock in which the block was wrapped. Shock. The sculpture is a stark white — how come it is not the warm limestone colour that looks so impressive on our orange-backed poster?
Another shock. Around its rim are lotuses, but no one noticed the sea monster with a curly tail and the tusk by little toes to the left: are the feet about to step on it, or have they been carefully planted to avoid crushing the life that surrounds them?
The workmen attach the slab to their winch and slowly lift it up, moving it across to place down onto the case. They lower it onto the black padding on which the footprints will sit. But the padding is too big; a rim of black can be seen around the block. They lift the slab again and cut the padding down. Then finally the Buddha’s feet come down to rest, and the cover of the case can be placed over them… They make a very nice pair with the Ashmolean’s Buddha’s hand that was put up yesterday.