Hidden Treasures on Display – Applied collection care in Lower Austria. By Johanna Wilk + Gabriela Krist

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© Institute of Conservation, University of Applied Arts Vienna, Stefan Olah, Stift Neukoster, Wiener Neustadt

Lower Austria, a region in the northeast of Austria, is the historical heartland of the country and the biggest of the nine states making up the country. This area is rich in cultural treasures and historical sites. All over this region, the Baroque period, a time of prosperity from the mid of the 17th century to the mid of the 18th century, is represented by magnificent works of art, splendid monasteries and castles housing high quality collections.

During the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, museums started to develop in Lower Austria. The objects in these museums illustrate the history of the region highlighting trade, local costumes and craft and include archaeological and geological findings.
All of these collections together form an essential part of Austrian heritage and are in need of care and protection. Throughout history, insufficient documentation and inadequate storages represented the most common problems. In the worst case, precious treasures fell into decay. Therefore a support programme was started in 2013 by the regional government of Lower Austria called “Quality Campaign Museum Storages - Treasures on Display” (in the original German words: “Qualitätsoffensive Museumsdepots, Schätze ins Schaufenster”) organised by the “Museumsmanagement Niederösterreich” with the goal of rediscovering these hidden treasures and to improve their storage and preservation.
Right from the start, the Institute of Conservation of the University of Applied Arts Vienna has been involved with preventive conservation and collection care projects at museums and monasteries. New and applicable solutions for storage, display and documentation are developed and then implemented. The projects include work placements within institutions housing the collections as well as diploma theses, research studies and a PhD thesis. Work placements will be on site, dealing with documentation and the re-organisation or relocation of collections. Research studies will include conservation of objects at the studios of the Institute.
One of the most extensive projects within the programme deals with the Neukloster Monastery in Wiener Neustadt and its “Kunst- und Wunderkammer” (arts and natural wonders chamber) of more than 5000 objects. The goal is to develop a new storage and exhibition area in the monastery, which shall be open for visitors in 2017. It was a long way to go with the aggravation of starting the project with collections densely housed in inadequate storage and with a complete lack of documentation. At present, the inventory of the collection is concluded, the storage is improved and the concepts for the display and depot rooms in the future are at a good stage of development.
Hands-on work and scientific research are closely linked together. The overall concept is set up within the framework of a PhD thesis. One very important task of the research work is to analyse the unexplored collection in depth. The results will be presented in 2017 in the new “Kunst- und Wunderkammer” in Wiener Neustadt.
A series of pilot projects in museums and monasteries in Lower Austria have been established since 2013; these operates within the framework of another support programme “Treasuries on display”.
Several steps have already been taken successfully in different collections of the region covering documentation, storage re-organisation, conservation and care of objects or the planning of display and storage concepts. Applied collection care is the core of this unique programme, which is essentially contributes to the preservation of heritage and to the development of the cultural landscape of Austria.

All images in this article are © Institute of Conservation, University of Applied Arts Vienna, Stefan Olah, Stift Neukoster, Wiener Neustadt