Behind the Scenes at the DAM

Rare-Earth Magnets in Irresistible: Multicolored Textiles from Asia

A year ago, I wrote about the DAM conservation department’s use of rare-earth magnets for the display of art objects. We recently had another opportunity to utilize rare-earth magnets in the installation of several textile works for the exhibition Irresistible: Multicolored Textiles from Asia on Level 6 of the North Building. 

The textiles appear to “float” on the gallery walls thanks to some cleverly placed magnets and metal targets embedded in the walls.

Can you find the five magnets shown in this photo?

This installation was a bit tricky because the works are larger and the magnets had to be on the front of each piece. The conservation staff had to identify a good way to “camouflage” the magnets so they did not detract from the appearance of the textiles.

The rare-earth magnets are barely visible at the top of this scarf.

This detail photo of the same scarf shows the magnets more clearly.

Conservators carefully painted the magnets to blend not only with the colors of the textile, but also the pattern and gloss. The painted pattern on the magnets is not an exact replica of the textile but is close enough to fool the eye from the proper viewing distance. All of the magnets and targets have a barrier layer that protects the textile from direct contact with the paint and metal.

It was more difficult to hide the magnets on the textile below with its solid-colored border. The magnets are toned to the correct color, but as the image below shows, these magnets remain visible.

However, busy patterns make for excellent cover! Were you able to tell where the magnets were in the second photo? The photo below has them marked out in yellow.

Did you find them all?  They are almost invisible, which makes this installation method a success!

Michal Mikesell is a conservation assistant in the conservation department at the Denver Art Museum. Michal has been at the DAM since 2010 and her favorite artwork that has been on view here is Fatherhood by Wes Hempel.