Visit the Conservator

From Roll to Wall – mounting a huge work on paper

Large-scale artworks can impress us simply by virtue of their sheer size, but at the same time they also pose a particular challenge to conservators as regards transport, packaging, restoration, conservation, and mounting.

Waves Over Graves, Ferdinand Ahm Krag

In 2012 the museum acquired a large, splendid work on paper by the Danish artist Ferdinand Ahm Krag: Waves Over Graves, a work created by means of various techniques using graphite, acetone transfer print, lacquer, and black and red ink on heavy paper. Measuring 223.3 by 239.6 cm, the work had been loosely rolled up upon its arrival at the museum. In order to be able to safely store and exhibit the work, the museum’s conservators and curators had to come up with a permanent mounting solution that could be used in the exhibition rooms and in storage alike. First, however, the work needed to be rolled out and flattened.

Tiny steps over time
When paper is rolled up it quickly adapts itself to its new, rounded shape, and flattening it again can be something of a challenge. In order to prevent irreversible creasing of the paper and any cracks in the layers of pigments, the process of unrolling and flattening the paper must take place in a very controlled fashion and at a carefully measured (slow) pace, thereby giving the paper fibres and pigments enough time to get used to their new direction and enabling them to maintain their restored flat shape afterwards.

Waves Over Graves was sandwiched between heavy felt, silicone paper, cardboard, and wood and placed under weight for four weeks in climate-controlled conditions at around 60 % RF and 24° C. At this point the work had resumed its own shape sufficiently to allow mounting to begin.

Strips and honeycomb panels
In order to ensure optimum support and safety for the work, it was decided that it should be fitted with hinges on all four edges and mounted on a firm back plate. A total of 38 strips of Asian paper, K-65, each with a width of 3 cm, were evenly distributed along the edges of the work on the reverse. The adhesive used was a 50/50 mixture of wheat starch and tylose 10,000 M (circa 2 %).

Artworks of such large size require strong, rigid backing in order to keep the work flat and avoid deformation. For Waves Over Graves we combined two large, white, acid-free Honeycomb Panels from Klug Conservation to form a single panel measuring 225.3 x 241.6 x 1.3 cm. Panels of this kind are supplied with puzzle-shaped edges that allow for easy combination. The join between the panels was also reinforced with a broad piece of bookbinding canvas glued on with Evacon conservation adhesive.

Flattening the work

38 strips sticking out

A strong lightweight
The so-called Honeycomb sheets are very well suited to mounting artworks. They consist of a core with a cell-like structure sandwiched between paper-based surfaces that keep the sheet firm and stiff. The honeycomb-like core contains a lot of air, and the result is a strong, easily worked material that weighs a fraction of e.g. wood or plastics.

The edge of the Honeycomb sheet used for Waves Over Graves was sealed using a strip of 1200g/m2 acid-free cardboard attached with Evacon conservator’s adhesive. The edge was then further reinforced with white bookbinding canvas.

High-precision cuts
The artwork, still featuring 38 strips sticking out from its back, was then placed on top of the assembled Honeycomb sheet, which was just one cm larger than the artwork itself along each edge. This made it possible to very accurately indicate where to make cuts for each strip in the sheet. The K-65 strips were then inserted into and through the sheet and fastened on the back of the sheet using a mixture of one part wheat starch to one part tylose 10,000 M (approximately 2 % solution in demineralised water). The strips were mounted some 1.5 cm inside of the outer edge of the artwork itself; utilising this method of mounting creates a very attractive effect by leaving the edges free, causing the artwork to appear to be floating against its support.

Precision incisions

The strips are inserted through the sheet

Aluminium frame with feet and straps for lifting
To further reinforce the Honeycomb sheet, it was fitted with an aluminium frame (30 x 30 mm) from Rexroth Bosch Group. The frame is glued onto the Honeycomb sheet with strong, moisture-curing adhesive without any solvents and phthalates (Montage Ekstra 292 from Dana Lim A/S). The aluminium frame is fitted with adjustable feet, eyelets for hanging, and straps for lifting. This means that in addition to strengthening and supporting the work the aluminium frame also facilitates easy, safe handling, display, and storage of the work.

To further protect the work while in storage the museum’s art handler finally built a storage frame out of plywood. The artwork is fastened inside this frame, allowing it to be moved easily without risking any damage to the edges and surface of the work. When the work is on display the eyelets on the aluminium frame will be used to hang it, and the feet on the frame can be screwed back, hiding them from sight.

Storage frame, front

Storage frame, verso

This method of mounting gives the work maximum support while using excellent, lightweight materials that facilitate storage as well as display. It is a flexible solution that minimises wear on the work when moving it around the museum for various purposes.

Christian Balleby Jensen and Karen Esser
Conservator, art on paper
Conservation Department

Updated: 26.apr.2018
Webmaster: Webmaster
SMK Logo