Under construction: The installation of large scale Egyptian reliefs at the Walters Art Gallery

Lori Trusheim


The Walters Art Museum is in the process of completing a major renovation and reinstallation of its Centre Street building, which will exhibit a comprehensive range of collections from Ancient through 19th century Art. As part of this project, four large Egyptian granite reliefs (two corner blocks, two flat fragments) were installed into a temple gateway reconstruction at the entrance to the Egyptian galleries. Prior to this renovation project, the reliefs were recessed into a nonload- bearing wall constructed in the 1970’s. This paper will describe the project from the beginning, with the relief deinstallation in the previous gallery to their conservation treatment and finally, to their reinstallation into the current exhibition setting.

Only vague records remained from the 1974 installation describing how these reliefs were mounted inside a cinderblock wall. Therefore, the project evolved over time through a series of questions, investigations and decisions. Early questions focused on how the reliefs were mounted into the wall, how they could be safely removed, and who would be qualified to do this? A deinstallation plan was established based on further examination of the objects (mechanical removal of cement along relief perimeter) and essential discussions with museum conservators who had worked on similar projects. Stonemasons who worked under the supervision of conservators carried out the deinstallation.

The next phase involved conservation treatment, which included cleaning, loss compensation and joining fragments. One of the corner blocks required stabilization of a large, misaligned join as well as the joining of a new fragment recovered in storage. Decisions regarding join stabilization and reassembly were made in conjuncture with the mounting phase of the project. The design and engineering of the mounts was contracted out-of-house, the central coordination point being the conservation department. Mounting and reinstallation of the reliefs in the gateway was guided by the premise of security and reversibility. Much of the project relied on the expertise of related professionals such as stone masons, mountmakers, art handlers, riggers, structural engineers and designers. This multi-disciplined project demonstrated the complexity and necessity of collaboration in order to safely create an aesthetically pleasing contextual museum installation for these reliefs.

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