Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Manufacturing Custom Hanging Hardware for the El Anatsui Exhibition

The slanted walls and ceilings of the Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum call for some creativity when it comes to hanging certain kinds of artworks. El Anatsui’s wall sculptures, featured in the exhibition El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa, were one such case. 

The wall sculptures, which resemble textiles but are made up of thousands of metal bottle caps and labels attached together with copper wires, are normally installed against flat walls. The Museum for African Art, which organized the touring exhibition, has used an installation method developed by the North Carolina Museum of Art at the other exhibition venues. However, a new hanging method had to be devised for certain locations in the level four galleries of the Hamilton Building.

Steve Osborne, the museum’s mount maker and conservation technician, pictured in his workshop above, devised a hanging method that would allow the wall sculptures to be sculpted and formed while hanging vertically from the ceiling in front of the slanted walls.

The hanging method employs a plank of foam behind the wall sculpture along its top edge. The plank is hung from the ceiling of the gallery. The sculpture is attached to the plank using acrylic rods that are inserted through openings in the cloth and into the foam. Embedded into the bottom edge of the foam plank is an aluminum channel from which cables with attached hooks are hung on sliders that allow the cables to be slid from side to side. 

 

The hooks are used to gather and fold the wall sculptures in the sculpting process. The height and spacing of the hooks can be adjusted easily to create the effects sought by the curator or the artist.

In order to implement this hanging method, Steve manufactured the brass hooks and the aluminum sliders himself.  He first fabricated two machines that would allow him to mass produce the hooks and sliders. 

Check out the videos below to see the respective hook and slider machines in action. In the first video, the hook-making machine first cuts a piece of brass rod to length. The length of brass rod is then bent to the correct hook shape. Finally, a hole is drilled into the hook using the attached drill guide. In the second video, the slider-making machine first cuts a piece of aluminum strip to the right size. The second motion punches a hole in the slider where the cable and hooks can be attached.

Kate Moomaw is assistant conservator for modern and contemporary art in the conservation department at the Denver Art Museum.  Kate has been at the DAM since 2011 and her favorite artwork that has been on view here is Geneviève and the May Wolf by Kiki Smith.