Art and the Tropical Climate – Part 2

Works of art from the National Gallery in London in storagte at the Manod Quarry in Wales during World War II

Works of art from the National Gallery in London in storagte at the Manod Quarry in Wales during World War II

Here is part two of the article on tropical art conservation by Joelle Salkey. The final section of the article includes tips for private collectors on how to safeguard their collections.

As fatalistic as this article has made tropical RH concerns out to be, with proper risk management and good housekeeping most crises can be avoided. However, in cases where the heritage object is delicate or fragile, good housekeeping may not be sufficient to ensure the object’s preservation. In such cases specific knowledge of the materials and techniques is required to aid its preservation. Tropical collections differ greatly from other collections around the world in that objects in such collections tend to consist of more organic materials, and a greater majority is classified as ethnographic objects. Problems can occur when the specific characteristics of the objects and their materials, as well as the conditions under which they are kept, are ignored.

In January 2014 American curator Cash Brown blogged about her experience at the National Museum in Myanmar[1]. Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate. Despite a fairly well maintained exterior of the museum, Brown noticed severe damages to most of the works from the collection which were not endemic to the region. She noted that works of photography, works on paper and oil paintings showed signs of degradation ranging from mild to severe, while the musical instruments, lacquer ware, wooden, stone and ceramic artefacts fared better. The museum objects that were made from locally found materials are chemically acclimatized to the conditions found in Myanmar. Those that were not native to the climate were ravaged by high humidity, and fluctuating temperatures made possible by the lack of proper climate control and supervision.

The National Museum in Myanmar

The National Museum in Myanmar

This phenomenon of acclimatization was first documented in London, when in preparation for WWII the National Gallery in England decided to secure their collections in limestone quarries in Wales. After the war, the collections were inspected and all found to be in good condition. They were removed from the temperature and humidity-controlled quarries and then re- introduced into the museum environment[2]. This relocation was observed to have a disastrous effect on the condition of the collection, as various artworks began to rapidly exhibit various forms of distress and deterioration after relocation. After some investigation it was concluded that the works of the collection had acclimatized to the constant environment presented in the quarries, which differed greatly from the inconsistent museum climate. It is important to note that the museum’s exterior environment plays an equal role in the stability of the interior environment and also has to be factored into preventive conservation and risk management controls.

Severe disasters pose a serious threat to the conservation of artefacts as they are often unpredictable or unpreventable. In the case of earthquakes, measures can be taken only after the catastrophic event has already occurred, although proper mounting and storage practices can help to prevent damage. Hurricanes and tropical cyclones form over tropical waters, in areas of high humidity, light winds and warm sea surface temperatures (26.5 degrees celsius and greater)[3]. There has been a very pronounced increase in the number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic since the late-1980s. This trend has been identified by scientists as a side-effect of greenhouse warming.[4]

Flood damage at a Chelsea gallery after hurricane Sandy

Flood damage at a Chelsea gallery after hurricane Sandy

The most common types of damage caused by storms and hurricanes involve flooding, and structural damage caused by the increased wind pressure. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Damage-Potential Scale[5] is used to determine the potential destruction caused by a storm in accordance with its assessed strength, and has become a very useful tool for risk management of tropical collections. According to the scale, if a storm is classified as Category 1, some minor physical damage to shrubbery and property can be expected. If risk management is applied accordingly, a collection can be protected against the increased rainfall, ensuring all leaks and structural infractions are corrected and secured.

As the severity of the storm increases, the risk management plan must become more specific to the types of collections, whether wood, metal or composite collections. For example, when faced with a Category 4 system, it can be expected that the risk of flooding will increase, as city runoffs are unable to contain the volume of water caused by heavy rainfall and storm surges. This then indicates that the potential damage to the collection by water damage is potentially higher than that of earthquake damage. All measures should be taken to elevate the collection or move them to a higher and more secure location. Hydroscopic objects should be given priority above non-hydroscopic works. They should be kept in conditions as close as possible to their accustomed climate in the museum environment. The instinct to cover all objects in plastic should be avoided as this could create localized climates within the plastic, and encourage mold growth.

Once risk management procedures are put into place and followed accurately the potential longevity of a collection should be ensured. The challenge is now to distinguish what environmental conditions and risk management procedures work with the tropical environment to protect tropical collections. This calls for a greater understanding of the risks posed to the region and the creation of effective disaster plans for the works found in the tropical collection.

Protecting Works of Art in the Home

In the home, disaster and risk management plans are just as effective as in the museum setting. While the average art owner or collector might not have access to sophisticated environmental monitoring equipment or HVAC controlled environments, he or she can assess the damage potential to any work of art and make provisions to ensure its safety. There are several agents of deterioration common in any household setting that should be given attention. As mentioned extensively in this article, temperature and RH are considered agents of deterioration, however in a home setting there are often other agents that take priority over fluctuations in climate.

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Art and the Tropical Climate – Part 1

Osmond Watson - City Life (1968, Collection: NGJ). This oil painting on canvas suffered from significant flaking and paint loss

Osmond Watson – City Life (1968, Collection: NGJ). This oil painting on canvas suffered from significant flaking and paint loss

In the early years of its operations, the NGJ has employed conservators, Trevor Burrowes and Stanley Barnes, and more recently the NGJ has benefited from various short-term conservation projects. We are now developing a long-term, in-house conservation programme, as part of our dcollections management. Here is the first section of a two-part article on tropical conservation by Joelle Salkey, a Jamaican art conservator who has recently joined our staff.

When defined in the scope of art and heritage conservation, the tropical climate presents a major source of problems for the display and storage of material collections. While tourists flock to the warm balmy climate, conservators scramble to find cost effective climate controls to maintain lower temperatures and reduced humidities. This is due to the fact that the unchecked tropical climate falls drastically outside of the conventional climate control specifications, of 21 degrees Celsius with 55% Relative Humidity (RH), established by twentieth century conservation professionals.

The obsession with identifying the ideal environment for artwork and museum objects assumes that the farther you stray from the ideal target the greater the damage posed to collections.[1] However tropical climates typically register temperatures averaging 24-27 degrees Celsius with a relative humidity of 65-70%. Following this, tropical temperatures are conducive to increasing the rate of decay in museum objects, with the rate of chemical and biological activity doubling for every increase in temperature of 10 degrees Celsius[2].

To make matters worse, tropical regions are disaster prone, suffering from more occurrences of hurricanes and earthquakes than other climate regions. Natural disasters are unpredictable and although they cannot be prevented, risk management offers a line of defence for a tropical collection. The concept of risk management is appearing ever more frequently in conservation literature[3], indicating that the old adage “prevention is better than cure” is very important in preserving the longevity of a collection.

Osmond Watson - City Life (1968, Collection: NGJ), afer its restoration at the Western Centre for Arts Conservation, Denver, Colorado, in 2010. This conservation project was funded by the US Ambassadors' Fund.

Osmond Watson – City Life (1968, Collection: NGJ), afer its restoration at the Western Centre for Arts Conservation, Denver, Colorado, in 2010. This conservation project was funded by the US Ambassadors’ Fund.

A risk assessment – whether formal or informal, extensive or conducted on just a small section of a collection, is a useful tool used in museums and other cultural institutions to prioritize the execution of preventive conservation methods. The goal is to hopefully prevent damage or, at least, to limit the extent of the damage. By estimating and calculating risks, museums and conservators can create measures to counteract hazards and to the best of their ability protect objects of cultural heritage.

The creation of risk assessments leads to a better understanding of the museum objects and how they respond in their various environments. Relative humidity and temperature are two of the most dangerous risks to an object’s permanence. Hence through risk assessment in conservation the museum or cultural institution can better evaluate suitable ranges of temperature and humidity to store and display objects.

With regards to the museum environment, museums and collectors face the challenge of finding a balance between the ideal climate and financial feasibility. This challenge is easier to accomplish if the objects being stored or displayed are of a similar makeup. For example, if a wooden sculpture is placed (as it should be) in storage with similar wooden objects, it is easier to follow the recommended storage temperature of 12-18 degrees Celsius and a humidity of 50-60%[4]. However, complex or composite objects consisting of more than one material in their makeup, are a bit more difficult to correctly store at their ideal temperature. A broader range is given to composite objects, designating 16-18 degrees Celsius in temperature and a 40-55% humidity range.

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WritivityBeginning from August 10 to August 14, 2015, the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) will be hosting a five-day journal workshop, titled WRITIVITY, for students preparing to sit Visual Arts examinations for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC). The workshop is being coordinated by the NGJ’s Education Department as a part of its summer programming.

WRITIVITY will focus on guiding students through approaches to developing the reflective journal, which is a key component of the School Based Assessment (SBA) submissions for CSEC Visual Arts. The reflective journal typically requires students to document, in pictures and in text, the progression and development of their SBA artworks as well as the associated research. WRITIVITY aims to assist the students’ understanding about how to approach this task, by utilizing the NGJ’s’s permanent collections as points of reference for critically assessing works of art and artists, in order to create different types documentation about them. The workshop also aims to familiarize the participants with the research resources of the Education Department, which manages a small but unique collection of exhibition catalogues and various art-related books and other documents.

Activities for the WRITIVITY workshop will be held daily from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm at the NGJ, 12 Ocean Boulevard, Block C, Kingston Mall (entrance on Orange Street). Interested persons should call or email the NGJ in order to register. The workshop is free of cost but space is limited, so applicants are encouraged to register as soon as possible. For more information, please contact the National Gallery’s Education Department at 922-1561 / 3 (Lime landline), or 618-0654 / 5 (Digicel fixed line). Emailed queries should be sent to

Last Sundays, July 26, 2015: Artists Talks, Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists

ngj_Sunday July 26,2015 rgb

The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme for July 26, 2015 will feature the much-anticipated artists’ talks to accompany its current exhibition Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists, which invites viewers to reflect on the role and status of women in the Jamaican art world. Participating artists will include Miriam Hinds-Smith, Amy Laskin, Prudence Lovell and Berette Macaulay, who will speak about their work and the issues that surround it, in the context of local and global debates about the role and advancement of female artists in the art world.

Visitors will not only be able to view the Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists exhibition but also the Kapo and Edna Manley Galleries, the Historical Galleries, and the A.D. Scott Galleries, as well as a temporary exhibition consisting of sections from the Gallery’s modern Jamaican collection, which is staged while those galleries are being refurbished. The latter exhibition includes major work by Edna Manley, Albert Huie, Carl Abrahams, Koren der Harootian, David Pottinger, Barrington Watson, Eugene Hyde, Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Everald Brown, Albert Artwell, Colin Garland, and Gloria Escoffery.

As is customary on Last Sundays, the doors will be open to the public from 11 am to 4 pm and admission, guided tours and children’s activities will be free. Contributions to our donations box are greatly appreciated and help to fund exhibitions and programmes such as the Explorations series and our Last Sundays programming. The gift and coffee shop will also be open for business.

Ten Artists Selected for Young Talent 2015

Diandre Davis

Di-Andre Caprice Davis – gif colllage

The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Young Talent exhibition series was introduced in 1985 and has seen five editions thus far, the last of which – Young Talent V – was held in 2010. The purpose of this exhibition series is to provide exposure to the work of artists under forty years old, in and from Jamaica, and the series supports an important aspect of the NGJ’s mandate, which is to actively encourage new developments in Jamaican art and to support the work of young and emerging artists. The series also encourages public critical dialogue about new directions in Jamaican art and culture and provides a platform for innovative curatorial practice. Several well-known Jamaican artists are alumni of the series, including Omari Ra, Basil Watson, Anna Henriques, Khalfani Ra, Paul Stoppi, Ebony G. Patterson, Phillip Thomas, Leasho Johnson, Oneika Russell, Marvin Bartley, Michael Elliott, and Marlon James. A related exhibition – New Roots – was held in 2013 and featured artists such as Matthew McCarthy, Camille Chedda, Storm Saulter, Varun Baker, and Deborah Anzinger.

Richard Nattoo - Oblivion (2015)

Richard Nattoo – Oblivion (2015)

Another exhibition in the Young Talent series is scheduled open on August 30, 2015 and will feature ten artists under forty, namely Greg Bailey, Alicia Brown, Katrina Coombs, Di-Andre Caprice Davis, Domanie Denniston, Monique Gilpin, Howard Myrie, Richard Nattoo, Avagaye Osborne, and Cosmo Whyte. The selection process for Young Talent 2015 was based on a call for submissions and a total of thirty-five entries were received. While the original intent was to feature only eight artists, the curatorial team decided to increase this number to ten, in response to the quality and range of entries. The selections were made by Executive Director Veerle Poupeye, Senior Curator O’Neil Lawrence and Assistant Curators Monique Barnett-Davidson and Tesha Chai, who will also serve as the curatorial team for this exhibition.

Greg Bailey - No Blue Skies in the Land of Sunshine (2013)

Greg Bailey – No Blue Skies in the Land of Sunshine (2013)

Young Talent 2015 covers a healthy range of contemporary art practices, from the realist portrait paintings of Greg Bailey and Alicia Brown to the textile- and fibre-based works of Katrina Coombs and Avagaye Osborne. The focus on textile- and fibre-based media is a relatively new development in local contemporary art and is part of a broader trend of experimentation with media, which is also evident in the glass-based work of Howard Myrie, Richard Nattoo and Domanie Denniston. As in Young Talent V and New Roots, there is a strong representation of photography-based media, as can be seen in the work of Domanie Denniston, Di-andre Caprice Davis, Monique Gilpin and Cosmo Whyte, although the latter now also produces three-dimensional constructions. While there is no deliberate common theme in the exhibition, the works selected are perhaps best understood as a mirror of the contemporary world, in Jamaica and globally and address issues such as the politics of gender, sexuality and race and, in several instances, use subtle formal and verbal strategies to make powerful statements that all lives matter.

In all, Young Talent 2015 promises to be a strong, engaging and at times provocative exhibition and a worthy successor to Young Talent V and New Roots.

Cosmo Whyte - You Know We Can't Swim

Cosmo Whyte – You Know We Can’t Swim

Last Sundays, June 28, 2015 – featuring “Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists” and “The Way Home” by Millicent A. A. Graham

ngj_Sunday_Opening_ June28,2015 (RGB)

The National Gallery of Jamaica’s Last Sundays programme for June 28, 2015, is staged in association with the 2015 Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) urban art festival. The programme will feature special tours of the Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists exhibition and the launch of the poetry collection The Way Home by Millicent A.A. Graham.

Explorations 3: Seven Women Artists, which opened on May 31 and continues until August 8, is the third edition of a series of exhibitions that explore the big themes and issues in Jamaican art. It asks whether any concept of women’s art is relevant in Jamaica today and features work by Kereina Chang Fatt, Miriam Hinds-Smith, Berette Macaulay, Amy Laskin, Prudence Lovell, Judith Salmon, and Jasmine Thomas-Girvan. Explorations 3 was curated by National Gallery Senior Curator O”Neil Lawrence.

Millicent Graham

The Way Home is Millicent A.A. Graham’s second poetry collection and is published by Peepal Tree Press; her first collection, The Damp in Things, was published in 2009, also by Peepal Tree Press. Graham is a fellow of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, 2009 and was awarded the Michael and Marylee Fairbanks International Fellowship to Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, 2010. The Way Home will be introduced by the critically acclaimed poet and novelist Velma Pollard, who is a retired senior lecturer and former Dean of the Faculty of Education, UWI Mona. This will be followed by readings from the poetry collection by the first lady of Jamaican theatre Leonie Forbes, by fellow poets Jean Binta Breeze and Yashika Graham and by Millicent Graham herself.

Admission and guided tours on Sunday, June 28, 2015 are free but donations are gratefully accepted. The doors will be open from 11 am to 4 pm but the book launch will start at 1:30 pm. The National Gallery gift and coffee shop will be open.