Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Lesson in Moving Art

by Enaam Alnaggar 

I arrived for my first day of work at USF CAM at 10:15, Thursday morning, to find Peter, Shannon and a few volunteers and interns already hard at work, transporting several paintings back to the museum vault. As I checked in, one of the volunteers handed me an info sheet outlining the various procedures involved in the handling and transport of artwork. As I looked over the sheet, I realized that most of the pointers were really just common sense -- never carry more than one piece of work at a time, ask for help when you need it, etc.-- but I wouldn’t realize how involved and meticulous the process was until later. 

For the first half-hour or so, I simply observed, unwilling to wear the little white cotton work-gloves everyone was sporting. Most of the artwork was relatively large and without a doubt extremely valuable. Moving and storing it required a lot of overhead lifting.  Some of the volunteers were even on ladders and it all seemed a bit perilous.  I’ve always thought of myself as a little clumsy and the idea of me dropping or damaging a piece of artwork was horrifying because the value of artwork doesn’t just lie in its monetary worth, but in the time and effort that the artist invested to create it. I’ve always viewed art as an extension of the artist’s spirit and to have that expression wasted is quite a terrible thing. 

Still, I couldn’t hide forever and after watching the others for a while, I grew a little less nervous and more interested in trying it out for myself.  I got my chance soon enough and when I lifted up the painting, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as heavy as I thought. Moving it was a little stressful at first, especially when you are the one walking backwards. You really have to be aware of your surroundings, so as not to bump or scratch the painting against anything, or worse, trip and drop it. Eventually, however, you get used to the process.  After moving the paintings, we stored them in the upper levels of the vault where Shannon explained to me that in order to prevent damage, all flat artwork must be stored either face-to-face or back-to-back. In all, the whole process truly reinforced Peter and Shannon’s oft-repeated assertion that “moving artwork isn’t just moving artwork.” 

Shannon also demonstrated to a group of us the museum’s cataloging system that is used to keep track of the exact location of each piece of artwork. If you are wondering about the importance of this system, think about this: What would happen if a book was misshelved in a library? It would be equivalent to losing that book forever. What are the chances of finding that one book among the thousands that a library houses? CAM stores thousands of pieces of artwork; finding a lost piece among all that would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. 

We also made a short trip to Graphicstudio to examine a Keith Sonnier piece that needed repairing.  I have to say that I greatly enjoyed my first day of helping out at CAM.  Being around all that artwork and actually being involved in some aspect of it, left me with a very satisfied feeling and I can’t wait to come back next week. 

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