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October 09, 2009

What to expect when you’re expecting (an exhibition).

Two weeks ago, Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky) was installed in the Potomac, the main rotunda at NMAI. It now hangs and rotates, as a result of a multitude of hours and of hands planning and weighing and balancing and adjusting. Five large plastic animals nearly perfectly balanced and counter-balanced from an inverted rowboat suspended from the ceiling. Engineering! 

The morning of the installation: the emu, the possum, the sea eagle, and the shark, loaded onto carts, took the freight elevator up from the basement collections area where they had been corralled for the past several months. Then the elevator broke. The crocodile took the more scenic route: up from the loading dock to the mean streets of DC, through the staff entrance (allowed access despite lack of appropriate identification), and to the Potomac.

Three scissor lifts were employed simultaneously to lift the pieces in appropriate sequence. When the lifts descended, Crux was left to turn at will.

Hanging crux
Jay and Pat of the exhibits shop staff, in hard hats. Crux in the process of being hung.

Curator delights
A curator delights.

It looks pretty amazing.

And elsewhere? Garbage cans.

Image retrieved from here. (Photo: Mathieu Génon, courtesy of the artist, Casey Kaplan, NY, and Frac des Pays de la Loire, France.)

The piece above, Carapace, was originally made by Mr. Jungen at Frac des Pays de la Loire, in France, out of French plastic garbage bins. Les poubelles. When the piece was dismantled, the bins were systematically stacked, and shipped over the Atlantic by sea freight.  Land ho, the port of Baltimore and thence to Smithsonian storage and finally NMAI. So many bins, so many bins.

Cleaning bins
Thorough inspection. Photo by Gail Joice.

And here is one of the small paradoxes of conservation and collections care: cleaning garbage cans. These, as garbage cans are wont to do, sat outside, in French dirt, prior to their use in this piece. Alas, with dirt can come pests, which can make the trans-Atlantic crossing, bunked under handles, hidden in the depths of the bins. Some of these pests, at times, can have an innate hunger for some museum objects as a food source; following their natural search and destroy policy, they can infest and damage museum collections.

Gail and bin
Gail Joice, Collections Manager, inspects a bin.

And so, with this in mind, upon their arrival at NMAI, the garbage cans were unpacked and inspected. (Customs apparently does not offer this type of conservation service.) We looked for pests. We found a few. Mostly spiders, who had known better days. And we cleaned off the conspicuous dust and dirt with water and rags. (It was likely the closest I’ll get to a holiday on French soil this year.)

And now, with the cleaner garbage bins, Mr. Jungen works on the reconstruction of the piece. Expect some changes. Jigsaws are currently being employed. There are plastic crumbs everywhere.

And elsewhere:

A skeleton.

A flag.

Many hands to raise them both. Luckily the artist is here to give his input.

Be ready. The 16th is right around the corner.



A very different installation. Leave the pins at home.


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This is an very interesting article, I have to say "Thorough inspection" is my favorite. I will be sure to check back regularly.



The turtle shell of garbage cans is priceless! Really wish I could have been there to see all this, your photos are a beautiful consolation though. Thanks!

- Joseph

I find the carapace piece amazing. It took a lot of work and a lot of cleaning phases but the results speaks for itself.

I like Crux. I've always liked any work of art that fills empty spaces above our heads with such a brilliant, artistic and beautiful piece of artwork. Great input!

Michelle Porter

I've always found hanging installations like this fascinating. I've never had a installation of my own, but thanks to this article I feel like I'd know what to expect.


enjoyed the post and the information good job thanks.

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