Antiquities, Art & Archives, Behind the Scenes, Conservation, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Villa

How Do You Move an Aztec Deity? Very Carefully!

Objects you see in the galleries at the Getty Villa, whether monumental or miniature, weighing a few ounces or several tons, all require careful and complicated work to install.

As a conservation mount maker, I’ve just finished working with my colleagues in the Department of Antiquities Conservation to make sure that the wonderful and rare objects on loan to us from major museums in Mexico for the current exhibit The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire were handled carefully and installed safely in the Villa galleries.

That’s not always easy, especially when the objects are large, heavy, and fragile.

We wrap the sculptures using strong slings (shown below) that are soft and non-abrasive and then lift them into place, inch by inch. Getting the right distribution of the straps so an object is well balanced when picked up by our overhead cranes can take an hour or more, but the time and the caution are all worth it—and part of my job.

Installing The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire

The objects are carefully positioned by the installation team and then held in place by mounts that we custom-make for each object. These mounts keep the objects from falling or moving on their pedestals in case of an earthquake (always a threat here in Southern California). Some mounts include interfaces under the object. Interfaces are synthetic resin forms cast to fit the contour of the object exactly.

By using an interface, we can distribute the load of the sculpture evenly so it isn’t just resting on a few points. The interfaces are not attached to the object, but provide a uniform “pillow” for the objects to rest on. Because the interface is attached to the pedestal, they also prevent the object from sliding. Mounts take on many forms, including clips to hold the object down and prevent both vertical and horizontal motion during an earthquake.

In the image shown below left, we are working with our colleague José Vázguez Vargas from the Templo Major Museum team to prepare an interface for a large figure fragment. At right is a close-up of a clip used to secure the figure of Xochipilli to its base.

Interfaces and mounts used for The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire

And here BJ Farrar, a fellow conservation mount maker, is fitting a metal plate to the bottom of the Incense Burner with Chicomecoatl. One side of the plate is attached to an interior mount that restrains the movement of this hollow terracotta object. The other side, the bottom, is attached to the top of the pedestal. The hidden construction ensures that the object cannot move or tip over.

Preparing mounts for the incense burner with Chicomecoatl

Small delicate objects require the same attention. While they are easier to move, they still require mounts. In this shot, Getty mount maker David Armendariz is adjusting a mount that will support this delicate clay figure.

Creating a mount for a small Aztec terracotta figure
Our work is rarely seen. And that’s the way it should be. It is important that these objects be fully protected from the dangers of earthquakes, but the mounts that protect them should not detract from your enjoyment of the art.

INAH / CONACULTAAll images above: CONACULTA-INAH-MEX. Reproduction authorized by the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

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  1. KG
    Posted April 6, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s completely amazing to see how you deal with heavy antiquities. I’ve always wondered when I’ve wandered through an exhibit, how you keep everything safe in our earthquake prone world.

    Thanks for posting this; I love the behind the scenes look.

  2. Posted April 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    We were just at the Getty Villa on Friday and saw this exhibit. How cool to have this behind-the-scenes account of what was involved in setting it up. THANK YOU!

  3. Lola
    Posted April 12, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Me parece muy interesante ver cómo ha sido tratada la pieza para ser trasladada. Me interesan mucho los sistemas usados para embalaje y transporte de objetos arqueológicos y artísticos.

  4. Corbin
    Posted April 15, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Mac, and crew, for the great job you do – and now you get to report about it. Awesome!

  5. Posted April 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    The work of you and your team never ceases to amaze me – from the various methods you use to protect large objects such as the one above from earthquake damage – to the invisible mounts securing small objects, you folks are the unsung heroes of the museum.

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