Installing ‘Imagining the Divine’ #1: 3rd October

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. 

Stefanie Lenk, 3/10/2017, installation day 2

When I tell people that it took two and a half years from drafting the concept of Imagining the Divine to the day of the opening, they wonder what it was that took so long!

To give you an idea of the many little things that need to come together before an exhibition is ready for the public, we thought we’d describe in detail a crucial – and particularly exciting – step in the whole process: the installation of the show. Installing a mixed media exhibition like ours, with loans from many different museums, is a huge logistical challenge. Our exhibition manager Catriona, together with the Ashmolean’s registrar Aisha, and a number of others, have worked on the two-week long installation schedule over the entire summer.

Intro Installation

Once the paint is dry and the newly-built cases have arrived in the museum, there are many precautions you have to take to make sure neither objects nor people get damaged in any way. Also, there is limited storage space where loans can be kept while they are waiting to be installed. While some museums have lent us as many as 20 objects, only so many can be installed at one time. Two installation teams (one for the heavy objects and one in-house team) are working in parallel from about 8am to 6pm every day. Every individual object is carefully placed so that it looks at its best. You have to go step by step, receiving one museum courier arriving with precious goods after the next. In our case, this process started yesterday on Monday 2nd October and will continue until, rather ominously for the superstitious, Friday the 13th.

Yesterday, not even Jaś and I were allowed into the space. A huge Roman sarcophagus of 1700kg was carried into the galleries. In that situation, you don’t want anyone around who doesn’t know exactly what they are doing. The heaviest objects come first and also take longest which is why today there isn’t that much to be seen yet. But this will change very soon. Watch this space!

Jewish installation

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