Instrument Exchange with the Phoenix MIM
This month, eight instruments from the Museu de la Música de Barcelona have been sent on loan, for a temporary exhibition, to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona (US), which is among the museums with the largest number of instruments in the world. Lending is one of the most important tasks for museums, allowing them to display pieces from the reserve collections and to promote the exchange of pieces between institutions. It is worth remembering that the vast majority of objects held in the world’s museums are in their reserves: it is estimated that they account for around 80% of their pieces, which means that only around 20% of collections are shown to the public. Exchanging pieces and holding temporary exhibitions at the museum itself or at other institutions makes it possible to display pieces that would be otherwise be difficult for the public to see.
But what does it entail for a museum to lend or display pieces from its reserves? It is often not as simple as going to the reserves, taking a piece and displaying it at the new location. Before doing this, the likelihood is that the piece will have to be studied to ascertain its condition and an assessment will have to be carried out in order to establish whether it is in a suitable condition to be prepared, restored, transported and displayed.
In this particular case, it was decided to send four instruments from the Museum’s permanent exhibition, as well as four from the reserves, to Phoenix. One of these reserve pieces is a harp from the Folch i Torres-Baget collection, made in Catalonia between the 17th and 18th centuries and held at the Museum since 1947. The harp is made of oak, cherry and poplar, with ebony buttons and decorative brass pieces, bronze nuts and iron pegs. The strings are made of gut.
It was decided that the harp needed to be restored before it could be displayed. This involved gluing and setting the cracks and the parts of the tailpiece that had become detached. The missing bronze nuts were replaced and new ebony buttons were made to replace those which had been lost. New strings were added, using the thicknesses of the remaining ones as reference, and the entire harp was given a general, very superficial clean.
Ultimately, the main aim is for the specialist public – and even more so the public with no specialist knowledge of the pieces shown – to be able to get a clear understanding of the pieces that will be included in the exhibition.