If you’ve gone to view the recent Repro Japan: Technologies of Popular Visual Culture exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), you might not have realized that you were also experiencing the debut of a set of reusable gallery walls – the first of their kind ever utilized at WCMA.
I had the privilege of interviewing Brian Repetto, WCMA’s Chief Preparator, about these walls and how they’re helping the museum improve their zero-waste practices. Previously, the partition walls used in WCMA’s galleries for exhibitions were made of an assortment of metal studs, sheetrock, plywood, and other material. However, the walls would be crafted for each particular show and then be torn down and disposed of. According to Brian, “They’d try to rehouse some of that material – the studs and things like that, but there’s only so much [that can be done]. Habitat [for Humanity] didn’t want it, so we came up with a system to make modular walls.”
The new, reusable, modular walls (depicted above), were first installed for the Repro Japan show in early October. Each one embodies a sizable six-by-ten feet, with stanchions in the end – these are large metal posts that aid in the structure’s stability. The walls also have removable baseboards which allow for them to be attached to one another and reconfigured, and they can be put on wheels to be moved between galleries in the future. Brian placed an emphasis on the aesthetics of the walls during our conversation. The walls’ baseboards are wooden, matching those of the outside border of the gallery, which helps them appear more permanent. The pandemic hindered WCMA’s ability to acquire some materials for the wall; ten-foot plywood, for instance, which would have reduced the number of seams running across the outward appearance of the walls.
The entire process that contributed to the development of the reusable gallery walls was rather impressive to me. Everything was built over the summer of 2021, with WCMA staff working with a local architect, a structural engineer, the town office’s building inspector, a metal fabricator, and more. We decided to walk down to the museum’s carpentry shop as well, where many hours went into constructing the parts necessary for the walls. Brian noted that while this entire project “was a big investment in time and material,” “everything in here will be reused for every show going forward.” Even for the partition walls with visual displays, specific to the Repro Japan show, there are plans to remove all the material and make more walls out of it for the next show.
We also took a detour to the new Strict Beauty: Sol LeWitt Prints exhibition, where another form of wall reuse is taking place. Due to the grand scale of the exhibit, the walls in the gallery have been rented from an exhibits company. WCMA worked with the company to fabricate a set of walls particular to the Strict Beauty show. Once the show closes, the walls will return to the company so that the museum doesn’t have to worry about storing them. They’ll make appearances in other shows, but if WCMA ever wants to rent the walls out again they have that option.
These reusable gallery walls are an exciting step towards progress in our zero waste goals here at Williams College. The walls in the Repro Japan show will help to make gallery exhibitions at WCMA, what was once a quite wasteful and material-intensive process, much closer to zero waste. And the Strict Beauty walls are helping to minimize waste in the future in a broader sense, by cycling through trade shows and other projects. It’s important that we improve our sustainability practices on all levels, whether it be through targeted institutional change, or creative projects like the reusable gallery walls.
-Written by Ainsley Ogletree ‘25, Sustainability Communications Intern