Without borders: creating the invisible showcase

Article – 02 May 2023

Many architects and museum professionals have the same dream: the ‘invisible’ showcase. An ideal showcase that presents, conserves and protects beautiful artworks and fragile artifacts without creating unwelcome barriers, distracting the visitor’s eye or physically dominating the space. In short, a showcase that delivers all the requirements of a showcase without ever being seen.

In reality, the nearest thing to invisible is a frameless showcase.

Goppion has been at the forefront of this design solution for years. Our close working relationships with curators, designers and architects, coupled with our team’s extensive experience, has facilitated some highly successful custom-made showcases that deliver essential requirements with absolutely minimal visual impact.

For example, at Turin’s Egyptian Museum (Museo Egizio), the designers had a very clear, post-modern vision of seamlessly integrating content with architectural space. To this end, the exhibition space required transparent showcases that would permit maximum legibility of the works on display and, at the same time, integrate successfully with the imposing 17th century architectural surroundings.

The showcases crafted by Goppion for this project were a happy synthesis of transparency and robustness, while also maintaining our usual guarantees of highest conservation standards and the absolute safety of both the works on display and the visitors admiring them.

Our Q-Class frameless showcases grace many fine museums and galleries around the world, including the Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA. This project, delivered in 2010, was driven by a vision of greater transparency both within the building and outside with the neighbouring landscape – achieved in part using large areas of glasswork. The new Americas Wing required many showcases, ranging from jewel-like vitrines to glass housings for large ship models – and ‘transparency’ was the governing watchword for them all. Miniaturizing hinges, tilt, pull & slide mechanisms and concealing them as part of the case design were important factors in creating showcases that appear gossamer-thin and integrate perfectly into the designed environment.

Across the Atlantic in London, Goppion worked with the British Museum on the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World, in 2018. The intent here was to reveal and explore the deep connections between Islamic, Mediterranean and European cultures, through displays of art and material cultural artifacts from a vast geographic range between China and Africa. The context of openness and accessibility extended to the design language of the showcases, and here again we created an extensive collection of cases (60 in total) that maximized legibility of the beautifully lit treasures within, allowing their stories to readily unfold.

By contrast to the BM’s permanent gallery, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York enlisted Goppion’s services in creating showcases designed for hosting regularly changing temporary displays. The contents vary widely, from silverware and bold sculptural pieces to fabrics, all in a minimalist setting.

In addition to accommodating such eclectic display material, the showcases had to blend with the variety of modern gallery spaces and period furniture within the building. Goppion’s B-Class cases were part of the perfect solution: all-glass and frameless, with panes joined together so the showcase appears as a single, transparent housing.

Creating frameless showcases can deliver fantastic results – but they also present their own particular challenges. Not least being the tendency for longer showcases to distort towards the center. This may prevent the door from closing properly, and also subjects the top to structural stresses that may lead it to crack. Most often, case builders solve this problem by gluing a reinforcing glass beam under the top surface. However, this solution is far from ideal: not only is it an intrusive, unsightly addition to the case, but the beam could break loose if the adhesives – which are the only means of keeping it in place – should fail.

In response, Goppion has developed a pre-stressed tensioner for the top of the frameless showcase, based on the concept of the sliding stay. Along the edge of the top, by the door, we apply particularly compact, virtually invisible rectangular tubing containing stays that are tensioned and angled in accordance with the size of the top itself and regulated by adjusting screws at each end. This is just one example of how our team’s collective ingenuity, skill, and cooperation deliver solutions that are both practical and aesthetically appropriate.

Ultimately frameless cases need to ensure that very little hardware is visible – working parts are concealed in the thickness of the glass or located where the panes meet, making the cases particularly transparent. The result is an enriched experience: visitors have unimpeded sight lines, they can enjoy details of the works on display, and they can also take in the surrounding architectural context.