Artist, Nina Katchadourian: This is a Bell-47D1 helicopter, from 1945. It’s in MoMA’s design collection, and it’s one of the most difficult objects to dust in the entire museum.
A lot of different people are alert to the dust that gathers on the helicopter. Here’s Nelson Nieves, from building operations:
Assistant Director, Building Operations, Nelson Nieves: If you look up toward the right hand side of the black wall, at the cable, where the cable is joining into the wall, you’ll notice that there’s a large amount of dust. And the blades. You’ll see the top of this blade is virtually impossible to get to. On the cabling itself you can actually see the amount of dust that’s on that cable. And it kills me because I can’t get to it. It’s sitting there and it’s taunting me and laughing at me and I can’t get to it! Drives me crazy.
Nina Katchadourian: The dusting of the helicopter happens about four times a year. I got to watch very early one morning as two conservators went up in a huge lift to get within inches of the helicopter. Then they got out what looked like giant Q-tips, and carefully wiped down the blades. The Q-tips were actually long extension poles, with wooly tips. After he got off the lift, I talked to conservator Roger Griffith and asked him what had been using up there.
Roger Griffith: We’ve done a lot of tests on dusting in general, what captures the dust and what doesn’t. Wool dusters actually has little hooks on it and it grabs the dust.
I also noticed they wiped the cockpit with some kind of special cloth, so I asked about that too.
They’re aerospace grade wipes. [laughs] They’re a fiberless kind of cloth that’s non-woven and it doesn’t leave any of the fiber behind. And they were actually designed for the air and space industry. [NK: Oh my gosh.] So they wouldn’t scratch.
Nina Katchadourian: Objects in a museum often jump categories in such curious ways. This helicopter was used for surveillance, as an aerial ambulance during the Korean War, and for crop dusting. But now, it’s getting dust-ed, wiped with special cloths and caressed by wool dusters wielded by careful humans on giant lifts. It’s as if it’s retired to a very high-end spa.