Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Another Visit With The Exhibit Doctor: Don't Touch The Walls!

In our continuing "Exhibit Doctor" feature, here's a common problem that ExhibiTricks reader Mary Anna Murphy raised:

This isn't a very knotty problem, but I've run across it again and again in installing 2d works in a non-traditional gallery setting such as a mall, an office that worships its walls, or even the Russell Senate Office building rotunda.  None of those places have walls that want nails or hangers.  I'd be interested in seeing how other folks have managed to make their displays.  Oh, and it always has to be low budget.

Ian Simmons from the Centre for Life in the UK puts in a vote for Velcro:

We have the same problem as Mary Anne in some of the places where I need to hang 2D stuff, and I swear by industrial grade Velcro, which avoids having to make holes for anything. This can keep up an amazing weight of stuff pretty securely, depending on how much you use, but it does need the venue to be relatively sanguine about any paintwork as it will take paint with it when peeled sometimes, but if they are cool about having someone just come round to do a touch up it works really well. It has to be proper Velcro brand Velcro though, none of the knock-offs are anywhere near as good.
Thanks, Ian!  (You can find "industrial strength" Velcro at Amazon, amongst other suppliers.)

For a different approach,  Dana and Kathy Dawes from ExhibitShop shared some of their work from the Palouse Discovery Science Center (PDSC) in Pullman, Washington (pictured below.)

While we haven’t come up with anything particularly elegant, we’ve come up with two solutions to hanging 2D displays in the parts of our local science center that has concrete walls.  One is to use GridWall panels connected into three-sided prisms, “X” or “H” shapes, or zigzag walls.  We’ve been able to get these from industrial/commercial liquidation sales for very reasonable prices.  We like them in our space because they are not visually intrusive; the downside is that some people don’t care for the industrial look.  

The other solution is to use door slabs connected together to create temporary walls.  We can get hollow-core, primed hardboard door slabs made up in sizes from 1-6 x 6-0 to 4-0 x 8-0 and the prices are very reasonable.  Our favorite way to assemble them is with bed-rail hangers mortised into the edges of the doors.  If necessary, we’ve finished the exposed edges with tee-molding or stained/varnished wood.  To make them easier to assemble, we have routed slots in the bottoms as well and use a t-shaped wall brace to align the bottoms of the panels. 

Nice work! Thanks for sharing Dana and Kathy.

Hopefully those ideas will help Mary Anna (and other museum/exhibit/design folks) break through some institutional "walls" (at least design-wise!)

Have some of your own "off the wall" design ideas to share on this topic?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below.  Also feel free to pose your own question or design challenge to The Exhibit Doctor below as well.  Lastly, don't forget to check out previous Exhibit Doctor posts.

Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Automatic ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)


  1. At our museum we have been using the 3M Command adhesive strips with great success. The largest piece mounted was a 4'x8'x0.5" gatorboard. That probably took about 20 strips. We have never had a problem with a painted surface on a 3-month installation. Currently testing on a stone surface to see if it will stain over time. The downside is we can only seem to get it in consumer packaging (much waste.) I need to speak with a 3M rep to see if we can purchase it in bulk.

  2. I create history exhibits for an archive. Almost everything is 2D (my world is a series of rectangles!). Our building is designated historic so there's no way to attach ANYTHING to the walls, which are limestone (and stained by any kind of adhesive I've found. I've experimented - yikes!). I cannot do touch up painting either on areas where there is stucco.

    Five years ago when I took this job I began to devise a modular system of single-sided false walls. It is similar to the idea of using doors, but these are lighter. I need it to be lightweight and easily moved, sometimes by just myself, so I framed out these walls with 1x4s, supported by "endcaps" that are perpendicular to hold the wall up. The effect is a series of niches into which I can also place display cases. I used 1/4" (or 5/16") plywood to panel them. I can paint and repaint (or patch) over and over. I can use nails, screws, bolts, hangers and Velcro to hang things on these walls. I deal mostly with photographs both framed and unframed or large print graphics on foamboard, but I've also built shelves to attach to them for labels and graphics as well as mounted a video screen on one with a small shelf for a mouse. I built them 3'x7' and have footers made of sandwiched 2"x4"s on edge in various lengths. These footers provide a kick space. The size makes the modules manageable to disassemble and move more easily. I can reassemble them by screwing them together with wood screws and/or bolts for whatever length wall I need. The longest wall so far is 12' with two 2' wide endcaps. A little bracing with a board along the top, and it is straight. Depending on the flooring, I shim them for leveling and am experimenting with adjustable feet.

    When I've built "rooms" with these walls, I cover the opposite side with gatorboard, also paintable and reusable. I made 2"x6" posts for the corners and paint and cover everything with gator. I'm currently constructing a tiny movie theater this way, complete with a marquee. I'm also working on removable decorative trim pieces to match our architecture.

    Love this blog! It has helped me a great deal. Thanks!