Protection of Ilya Kabakov's installation, School No. 6, during UV film application in 2014

UV Film Application at Chinati, Summer 2014

Natural light is essential for the art experience at Chinati. Most installations at the museum employ the natural light of the reliably strong West Texas Sun as their sole source of illumination year round. While the natural light is a crucial component  in the viewing  of the installations at Chinati, it simultaneously presents challenges for preserving the art works, particularly the permanent installations in which paper is central to the work, like the Carl Andre and Ilya Kabakov installations.

Andre’s Words,  1958 –  1972 are written with a manual typewriter or by hand in ink and arranged in vitrines designed by the artist.

Kabakov uses a large variety of paper items in his installation School No. 6, 1993, ranging from newspaper, posters, note books, music books, drawings, handwritten notes, typed notes, stamps and a variety of other paper based materials to tell the story of the abandoned school house. Most of the paper material he uses is of very poor quality, authentically portraying the materials used in the former Soviet Union.

Ilya Kabakov, School No. 6, interior detail, 1993
Ilya Kabakov, School No. 6, 1993. Permanent collection, the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. Photo by Florian Holzherr. © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Natural light poses a real danger to materials like paper, water colors, paints and similar materials. These types of materials are extremely light sensitive.  Unmitigated exposure to natural light causes them to fade and become brittle, which greatly compromises their longevity and thus Judd’s vision of permanently placed installations.

While natural light cannot be eliminated as the sole light source at Chinati, the most damaging  part of  natural light, UV radiation, can be eliminated almost completely thanks to modern UV reflective films.

A clear film is adhered to the internal surface of a window and blocks all or most of natural light’s UV radiation. The UV film does not alter the appearance of a building in any way or interferes with visibility or perceived light intensity inside the installations. The life expectancy of these films is between eight and fifteen years. In the future, the performance of the film will be tested twice yearly by measuring the UV radiation inside the installed spaces.

Installation of the film

The UV protective film was installed by specialists; the installation required thorough preparation of the spaces and windows, especially in the case of the Kabakov installation, School No. 6, and skilled workers knowledgeable not only in the application of these films but also in working around valuable art works.

The installation of the UV film is a wet process; the film is applied to the windows with a soapy water solution, which activates the glue of the film and fuses the film to the window surface during evaporation of the water through the film.

Ilya Kabakov, School No. 6, detail of no UV vs UV film on windows
Ilya Kabakov, School No. 6, detail of no UV vs UV film on windows

The installation procedure required that all items near the treated windows had to be removed to avoid accidental water damage of the exhibited objects. This applied to all furniture objects, like show cases, benches, and tables, as well as items placed on the floor and on top or inside of furniture, such as tables and closets.

In preparation for this task, the conservation staff had photographically documented the entire Kabakov installation.  Using a grid layout that had been superimposed on the floor plan of the space, each section of the floors and walls had been thoroughly documented to allow the conservation staff to carefully de-install all objects before treatment and re­ install them after the UV film had been applied.

Ilya Kabakov, School No. 6, detail of floor plan Room II, grid coordinates for location of items
Ilya Kabakov, School No. 6, detail of floor plan Room II, grid coordinates for location of items

All movable items were collected and placed into folders or bins according to their grid coordinates. All furniture locations were marked with tape on the floor to allow exact relocation of the furniture after treatment. Smaller furniture items were moved into the middle of the entrance room and covered with plastic sheeting. Larger furniture items were moved towards the center of the room in which they are installed and covered in plastic. All windows then needed to be cleaned thoroughly from dust and accumulated grime on the inside. After this preparatory work was completed, the window film installation began.

Protection of Kabakov installation during UV film application in 2014
Protection of Kabakov installation during UV film application in 2014

The preparation of the other spaces, where window film will be installed, was less work intensive. The vitrines housing the Andre Words were covered in plastic but not moved. The Arnarsson drawings and wall objects were also protected with plastic during the installation of the window film. The Judd prints, on view at the large exhibition building, needed to be covered with plastic for protection. The doors of the Wesley gallery also received UV protective film to slow down fading of these paintings.  The works near the doors were covered with plastic as well.


What effect does exposure to light have on a museum collections? Color fading and deterioration of materials. Light acts cumulatively-it is the total exposure over time that matters! Light is a source of damage to artifacts and its effects are irreversible. Fortunately, modern lighting technologies offer a variety of solutions to help control many of the damaging effects from light.

Light is a form of energy. Light generates heat. Artifact deterioration is a result of chemical reactions that occur when an energy source changes the chemical structure of the object’s surface. The amount of energy given off by a light source can be illustrated in the light spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum is divided into wavelengths of energy/ which range from low (radio waves) to high (gamma rays). The range of wavelengths from light sources (daylight and artificial light) can be divided into three regions: ultraviolet radiation or UV (300-400nm), visible radiation (400-760nm) and infrared radiation (over 760nm). In essence, the shorter the wavelength of the light source, the more damaging to the surface of an object the light source will be.

Of special concern to museum collections  is the high proportion of UV energy  in normal daylight (natural sunlight shining through glass). This is why the amount of light from windows  is minimized  in museum galleries. Artificial  light sources  used in the galleries and storage areas, such as incandescent,  halogen and fluorescent  are generally filtered or  diffused.

How can light be measured? Intensity of light is measured with a light meter using units of measurement known as “lux” or footcandles. One footcandle is equal to 10 lux units. There are also special light meters that measure levels of UV radiation. In general, light exposure levels recommended for museum objects are as indicated below. Extremely light sensitive organic materials such as paper or textiles are exhibited at very low light levels for only limited periods of time.

  Light level   Material  
  200 lux (20 foot-candles)   most ceramics, glass, and metals  
  150-200 lux (15-20 foot-candles)   oil and tempera paintings, undyed leather, lacquer, wood, horn, bone, ivory, stone  
  50 lux (5 foot-candles) or less   watercolor paintings, dyes, manuscripts, prints and drawings, vulnerable textiles, photographs  


UV protective window film was applied in the summer of 2014 to the following exhibition buildings at Chinati:

llya Kabakov: School # 6, 1993
Carl Andre: Words, 1958- 1972
lngolfur Arnnasson:  Untitled 1991- 1992 John Wesley Gallery
Large temporary exhibition space

Despite the enormous amount of preparatory work necessary to install the UV film, we are very thankful to all the donors who made this important step in preventive conservation at the Chinati Foundation possible through their generous contributions to the 2013 year end appeal.

Many thanks from the Conservation Department of the Chinati Foundation!