When museums across the United States abruptly closed their doors in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, chief conservators faced a challenge: how to assure the well-being of their collections without the benefit of constant physical oversight.
What most have come up with is a heavy reliance on on-site engineers and climate technology—from remotely monitored HVAC systems to digital data loggers to old-fashioned analogue hygrothermographs—supplemented by detailed periodic walk-throughs by designated conservators. And they are reporting that their collections remain safe in their environmentally controlled galleries, storage rooms and conservation labs.
At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the paintings conservator Michael Duffy logs about five miles during each of his twice-weekly visits, according to Kate Lewis, the museum’s chief conservator. With the galleries darkened except for a low level of emergency lighting, he inspects the art with a flashlight to verify that there has been no intrusion of water, infestation by pests or other worrisome change.