Posts Tagged ‘Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums’

Return of “Woman”

 
Willem de Kooning, "Woman", 1949-1950

Willem de Kooning, "Woman", 1949-1950, oil on canvas, Lena Kernodle McDuffie memorial purchase, 1954.

As many of you may know, WAM recently loaned Woman by Willem de Kooning (1949-1950, oil on canvas) to the Musem of Modern Art’s blockbuster exhibition de Kooning: A Retrospective (September 18, 2011–January 9, 2012). As is common among many museums lending artworks to exhibitions at other institutions, one condition of this loan was that a courier must accompany the artwork to and from the MoMA. The role of a courier is to ensure that an artwork travels safely to its destination, to monitor the unpacking and installation of the work, and to closely inspect the work’s condition to make sure that it has not been affected by the rigors of travel.  The Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums even has a “Code of Practice for Couriering Museum Objects.” I was pleased to serve as the courier for the return of the work but also a bit nervous, knowing the responsibilities it entailed. My worries manifested in concerns of slipping on an icy New York sidewalk and rendering myself unable to perform my courier duties.

Arrangements were made for me to fly to New York and report to MoMA following the close of the exhibition. After providing the proper credentials, I was escorted by the exhibition’s registrar into the gallery where Woman hung, surrounded by other works from de Kooning’s second Woman series. Our Woman more than held her own amongst the other ‘gals’. Crates were staged along the floor and I quickly recognized the crate for our painting standing nearby.  A few other couriers were working in various areas of the gallery and overseeing their works being packed. I was assigned to one of the painting conservators working on the exhibition who, coincidentally, had examined Woman upon her arrival with Registrar Heather Moore back in August.

Willem de Kooning with WAM "Woman"

Photo: Harry Bowden, January 1950; photo of Willem de Kooning with WAM's "Woman" painting.

Together we closely examined the work, referencing the condition report created prior to the painting’s departure from the Weatherspoon. A condition report is a document containing images and detailed notes about the condition of a work (i.e. cracks in paint, marks, abrasions, etc.). After examining the painting and the frame we jointly concluded that there had been no changes to the condition of the work since its arrival at MoMA. I was happy to learn from the conservator that Woman was in good condition in relation to other de Kooning works from this time period.  Once we were finished with the condition report a team of two preparators (museum professionals whose duties include handling and installing artwork) packed the work into its crate while I observed. The crate was custom designed by a fine arts crater to protect the work during travel. After Woman was packed securely in the crate I reviewed the schedule and arrangements with the MoMA staff for the next leg of Woman’s journey via fine arts shipper.

Myra Scott at MoMA

In front of images demonstrating the stages of the artist’s work in de Kooning: A Retrospective

I reported back to the MoMA the next day to observe the crate being moved by the MoMA preparators through the museum and onto the fine art shipper’s awaiting vehicle. Trucks and vans used in fine arts shipping are typically outfitted with environmental controls (including temperature and humidity regulation), air ride and other security measures and are manned by two drivers. After the crate was loaded, strapped into place, and the doors to the vehicle secured, locked, and alarmed, I joined the two drivers as we set forth on our way back south.

Condition Report

My folder of paperwork with the condition report

The eleven hour ride home was fortunately fairly uneventful except for some very heavy rain in Virginia. As we drew closer to Greensboro I was in contact with WAM staff on the other end who were patiently awaiting our arrival. The painting was quickly and carefully offloaded and moved into our secure storage, where it remained crated for at least 24 hours to allow it to acclimatize. This is done so the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air and the microclimate existing in the crate slowly and gradually adjust so as not to cause any drastic changes that would cause damage to a work (i.e. a canvas expanding and contracting due to severe humidity changes). After the acclimatization period our preparators unpacked the work and it was examined again using the condition report. We were pleased and relieved to find that Woman had travelled safely to and from New York.

Traffic Greensboro

View of rainy highway en route to North Carolina.

You’ll have a chance to welcome Woman home when she goes on view in Highlights of the Permanent Collection this fall.

Posted by Myra Scott, Assistant Registrar, Weatherspoon Art Museum

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