Behind the Scenes at the DAM

No Dust Bunnies Allowed: Gallery Cleaning at the DAM

There are some pretty great and little known jobs preformed behind the scenes at the Denver Art Museum. Among them is the role of caring for and protecting the artwork by keeping it clean while it is on display. The Denver Art Museum is closed to the public every Monday, and our collection management staff takes advantage of that quiet time to mount an attack on two of the biggest threats to artwork in the museum – dust and insects.

So why are dust and insects so harmful?

Dust

If left uncontrolled dust can cause damage to artworks. It is gritty, can cause stains, and carries and attracts pollutants. Most importantly, it attracts and harbors pests.

Insects

If you have ever pulled a wool sweater out of the drawer on the first brisk fall day of the year and found it full of holes, you know why the DAM staff is so concerned about keeping insects away from the collections. Some pests like webbing clothes moths (those are the ones that ate your sweater…) and carpet beetles are particularly threatening because they feed on materials common in the DAM collection such as wool, silk, and other protenaceous fabrics. Other pests like Miller moths do not actually eat fabrics (Did you know adult Miller moths don’t even have mouths?), but when they get trapped in the building and die, other more harmful pests are attracted to their remains.

What do we do to keep the artworks and platforms clean?

Platforms, casework, and pedestals are cleaned every few weeks to keep the dust levels low and to allow staff to monitor for pest activity. The artworks are cleaned every six months. We use variable speed vacuum cleaners, microfiber cloths, and brushes to carefully remove dust and grime from surfaces.

While cleaning isn’t very glamorous – even if it is in an art museum – the best part is getting to spend quality time with the collections. We all have our favorite pieces, and cleaning is a good excuse to check in on our old friends and make sure they are looking their best.

Sarah Cucinella-McDaniel is the associate registrar in the exhibitions and collections services department at the Denver Art Museum. Sarah has been at the DAM since 2004 and her favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Gees Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt.