In general, museum registrars keep track of art as it moves to, from and within a museum. My focus is on loans of artwork from the Walker’s permanent collection. I began working as the Walker’s assistant registrar less than three years ago, so the drastic spike in loan activity, traditionally averaging around 30 artworks per year, was a trial by fire at almost 100 loans in 2008. That year we sent out 42 prints to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art , 6 works to the 55th Carnegie International, titled Life on Mars, and numerous other works to exhibitions all over the world. Fortunately, when it comes to logistics, packing and installing art, the people I work with are some of the most knowledgeable and conscientious in the world. In the Walker’s program services department a team of two does all of our framing in-house in mysteriously swift time, and with utmost care and precision, no matter how many unwieldy prints I send their way. Meanwhile, our carpentry shop turns out the biggest crates fit for travel, and the registration technicians deftly manage moving, installing, packing and storing each loan.
Not surprisingly, things have slowed down since that hectic year. Still, my last courier trip was an eight-day journey that had me picking up Barnett Newman’s The Third in Graz, Austria, and meeting Wilhelm Sasnal’s painting, S.F. Airport, along the route back to Minneapolis. The shippers and fellow museum registrars with whom I met from around the world all agreed that the global economic crisis brought the insanity of art shipping back to the more “normal” pace of previous years. Somehow, though, none of us feels less busy. In fact, the day my shipment was received at the airport for export out of Europe, the shipping agents had a record day of juggling sixteen shipments of art and eight jet-lagged couriers from places as familiar as MoMA in New York and as distant as Georgia. (Not the home of the Georgian peach, but rather the country just south of Russia.)
After 31 art loans in 2009, 2010 looks like it will remain a steady but average year in this respect. Still, my colleagues and I in the registration department are facing a set of new challenges. Next month we look forward to exhibiting Anish Kapoor’s Mother as a Mountain in the artist’s retrospective at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. Though this is a familiar work to many, its loose crimson pigment makes the sculpture notoriously tricky to handle and install in most exhibition settings.
As summer approaches, Alexander Calder’s Octopus will exit the sculpture garden, getting a fresh coat of paint before shipping off to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. While I facilitate the loan, our permanent collection registrar, Joe King, will oversee the re-coating of Octopus. I can’t help but add that Joe recently received the William Johnson Award for “outstanding achievement demonstrating aesthetic merit in industrial coatings work” (yes, quite an elaborate distinction!) from the Society for Protective Coatings, for his meticulous care in renewing the cherry atop the Spoonbridge and Cherry last year. And finally, another high point we’re anticipating will be the shipment of three significant (and quite massive) Arte Povera works to Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City.
Whether a print needs to be framed, a painting needs to be couriered or a large sculpture needs to be uprooted and painted, what I can certainly see is that there will always be something keeping me on my toes… Every artwork requires unique attention, care and preparation before leaving the Walker on loan.