With its art treasures spanning seven millennia – from the earliest civilizations in ancient Egypt to the end of the eighteenth century – the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna ranks among the world’s greatest and most significant museums. A video shows, how laser detectors from SICK protect exhibits in the museum. Besides, SICKinsight spoke with Felia Brugger, who is responsible for the KHM’s security management, about strategies towards effective and yet visitor-friendly protection of the exhibits.
SICKinsight: What makes the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna one of the greatest and most significant museums in the world?
Felia Brugger: The KHM network includes several museums, and for every single one of these museums, it is appropriate to use superlatives. Just in terms of architecture, the Kunsthistorische Museum on its own is among the most important buildings of Vienna’s Ringstrasse Boulevard. The Paintings Gallery accommodated there is world famous. The same building also houses our collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, the Egyptian and Near Easter collection, as well as the coin collection, which features about 700,000 items, making it one of the world’s largest coin collections. Every year, our museums captivate thousands of visitors. I feel it to be a privilege every day to be able to work in a house like this.
SICKinsight: Which kinds of problems and challenges arise when it comes to protecting works of art in museums?
Felia Brugger: Security in museums encompasses the area of conflicting priorities between presenting and conserving. After all, the objects are supposed to be close to the viewer, they are meant to touch, as it were, without being touched. Protection requires making compromises on a permanent basis. In historical buildings like ours, some measures are either impossible to implement altogether or only with very extensive efforts. Therefore, the protective action always constitutes a combination of structural, mechanical, technical, personnel, and organizational measures.
SICKinsight: What were your goals when you took on the museums’ security management?
Felia Brugger: One of my prime objectives after assuming this responsibility in 2008 was the number of false alarms. You may have heard about the theft of the “Saliera” or “Salt Cellar” in 2003. At the time, a person forced his way into the KHM via scaffolding. In doing so, the man triggered the alarm, something the team of security guards in the security center ignored because that entirely normal day had seen numerous alarms triggered due to obsolete safety technology. The thief got away with an exhibit estimated at 36.5 million euros. My efforts, therefore, aimed at eliminating false alarms as far as possible. A second important issue is protection against vandalism. Frequently, mere seconds make a difference in whether a work of art can be saved or not. Security often translates into a gain in time.
SICKinsight: What are the demands you make on security measures?
Felia Brugger: It is essential that security-relevant conditions be indicated reliably. On top of that, the security technology used must be compatible with already existing measures and, as far as possible, with future systems as well. To me it is also important that a system is as easy to operate as possible. Of course, staff has received special training and clear instructions. However, anything that is easy to operate in an alarm event increases security.
SICKinsight: Why did you decide in favor of sensor technology from SICK?
Felia Brugger: To begin with, the deciding factor was that these laser detectors work extremely accurately and reliably. There are practically no false alarms. We receive exact data about any instance of someone coming too close to a painting, enabling us to react immediately. Another reason was the type of detection. The laser detectors from SICK provide the option of detecting spray mist comprised of diverse media, thus recognizing vandal attacks. I know of no other system capable of doing that. The third argument was the flexibility of the laser detectors. In the Painting Gallery, we often see re-hangings and special exhibitions take place. Whereas other systems had to be readjusted in elaborate ways, laser detectors provide the possibility of securing the entire wall, no matter what changes on it.
SICKinsight: What has improved by using the laser detectors?
Felia Brugger: From many years of experience, I can only confirm that the systems work extremely accurately. False alarms practically do not happen at all anymore; “real” alarms are indicated very precisely. That is why in the meantime laser detectors see use in other areas of our houses as well, for instance, to secure outside façades or to protect items such as large tapestries.