The Murky Depths

My job at the Hermitage is like an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, as it were, is the part the public sees: polished exhibits, carefully researched text panels and meticulously cleaned interiors.

The other part of my job – close to 96 percent of my duties – floats eerily beneath the waterline, well out of view. And now, thanks to climate change, that ominous bottom part is melting and spilling all over the place. Take this photo as evidence:

Acid-free archival boxes also make great curator forts.

Truth is, the second part of my job is easily the most important, and it is something the public rarely sees. That invisible job is, of course, the ongoing care of the tens of thousands of objects currently off display and housed in storage.

Just a fraction of our collections storage

The Sloane Collection is an especially tough beast. Thanks to the vision and enthusiasm of our patroness, Mrs. Florence K. Sloane, the collection is an exceptional cross-section of art history and comprises everything from Art Deco pieced-velvet opera capes to neolithic jade congs. We have objects made out of tooth, bone, skin, and hair; objects woven from the finest gossamer fibers; objects cast in bronze; objects hewn from rock; objects smelted over a hot fire; objects dug from the earth; objects containing animal skeletons; objects representing turning points in human history; and, of course, hundreds of paintings in all shapes and sizes.

Most of our work is done behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to share it with the public.  It is my special privilege to write about this part of my job here, and I hope you find the process as infinitely interesting as I do. And hey, if things ever get too serious, there’s always Colin to lighten the mood: