A New Frontier: Trailblazing Methods to Display Ruscha Books
Heather Brown, Mellon Fellow in Paper Conservation
There are seven books in the Ed Ruscha and the Great American West exhibition, which provided paper conservators the opportunity to exercise our skills in mounting books in an invisible way. Though the techniques appear simple, they required a good amount of planning and collaboration to achieve the perfect combination of physical support, visual unity, and aesthetic beauty.
How did we go about mounting the books?
First, curator Karin Breuer decided which page(s) she wanted to show and we brainstormed some creative options that would safely hold the book in place for the duration of the exhibition. We presented our ideas to Karin and exhibition designer Tomomi Itakura, and they decided on what they liked best. With the help of mountmaker Emily Meyer, we designed some innovative mounts for the more complicated books.
The three 5” x 7” books (pictured above) were particularly challenging because the tight binding prevents them from being opened wide enough to fully see the illustrations. However, we discovered that the pages can be carefully curved outward—a fact that Emily took advantage of to create a curved mount out of thin transparent plastic. After building a wooden form, she was able to heat the plastic enough to curve it into shape. The tabs on the sides of the mount made to hold the fore-edges of the books especially highlight her talent as they were cut completely by hand. The result is three custom built mounts that disappear into the background as the viewer enjoys the artwork.
What are some of the special materials that we used?
In addition to the polyethylene glycol (PETG) sheets that were used with the smaller books, sometimes Emily constructs mounts for heavier books with a more rigid acrylic, as with On the Road. On that book, you will also see (or not see!) polyethylene strapping and a polyester clip to hold open the cover. Finally, a rare earth magnet beautifully covered in white Japanese paper holds open the page adjacent to the print.
Rare earth magnets are a great conservation tool because they are strong but minimally distracting. Tiny magnets were also used to hold the pages of the spiral bound Royal Road Test around matboards that help the book to stand upright. Pins camouflaged in white rubber tubing contribute some extra bracing to keep the pages in place.
One of the more unique books in the exhibition is Every Building on the Sunset Strip because it’s bound like an accordion and features images in both an upright and “upside down” orientation. The goal was to show the entire length of the book in order to see the full sequence of photographs along Sunset Blvd. Rather than give away our chosen technique, we encourage you to take a closer look at the book when you visit the exhibition.
Were any of the books harmed in the process?
On the contrary, all of our mounting techniques were designed to safely display the books in a non-invasive and stress-free way. At the end of the exhibition, the books will be de-installed in a matter of minutes without leaving a trace of the mounting materials behind. Even better news: the custom mounts can be saved for future use with these and other books in our collection.