Debi van Zyl



What a week; I haven't needed a Friday this badly for a while. Long hours on our feet installing objects and graphics, with the requisite hiccups along the way, of course, and now finally we can say the majority of the work is done. Finishing touches take place next week and then we can put our feet up. These images were taken last week when we had just started to install graphics. I can't share images of the finished exhibition, so you'll just have to come to see it for yourself: Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes. It opens at The Huntington March 15, 2014.


This is the second iteration of this exhibition, which went on display in Baltimore at The Walters Art Museum in 2011-2012. I've been lucky to work on its design here in Los Angeles.

The exhibition is interesting because it focuses on one object: a palimpsest from the 13th century, which includes at least 7 mathematical treatises by Archimedes from the 3rd century B.C., the earliest surviving Archimedes manuscript by about 400 years. In 1229, the Archimedes text (complete with diagrams) was scraped off the parchment, torn in half and rebound to form one new prayer book. If that isn't crazy enough, a few hundred years later it disappears. Then it resurfaces in 1844 but disappears again in 1920 and found in the hands of an antique dealer and subjected to ripped out leaves and forgeries. And all the while, the book succumbs to mold and other damage. In 1998 this palimpsest is sold for $2 million at auction. This exhibition tells the story of how it was conserved and read, a process that took 12 years.

The meticulous process of conserving and trying to read the leaves (through Multispectral imaging) has resulted in an absolutely fascinating story and, given how damaged this palimpsest is, it makes for an amazingly beautiful piece for display. Twenty leaves have been carefully disbinded and presented like gems.

These are the times when all the long hours sitting behind a computer going blind, and hours on my feet at install, added to the frustrations of incorrect graphics and incorrectly built cases, wash away. This object is really special and its conservation process equals it.

It is on display until June 22, 2014. If you're in the LA area, it shouldn't be missed.

Debi van Zyl2 Comments