Christine Downie, Objects Conservator
One of the many interesting aspects about working at a museum are the courier trips. When an artwork is approved for loan to another institution, a BMA courier will usually accompany the piece to the host institution to make sure it is properly delivered and installed. Of course, there is much more to loaning an artwork than this. The facilities report for the loan institution has to be reviewed to make sure the object will be safe and in an appropriate environment. The object usually needs to have a special crate made so it can travel without coming to any harm. Depending on the destination a variety of methods of transport may be required with special art handling and strict procedures, and the list goes on.
I have been on numerous courier trips now and what continues to intrigue me is the way other institutions display the BMA object(s). We put restrictions on the lighting levels, relative humidity, and temperature of the galleries, as well as where the object will reside. The object cannot be handled by the public and must be handled and installed by trained art handlers wearing special gloves. Only after the host museum agrees to meet these and other requirements, can they design the exhibition as they see fit, with objects from their own collections and/or other loans. The host museum’s exhibit designer selects the colors and layout with input from the host curator. The object(s) is in completely new surroundings and can look very different.
One piece I have traveled with several times is Henri Matisse’s bronze sculpture Large Seated Nude. This piece is large and heavy. At least four strong people are required to lift it. Large Seated Nude cannot be touched by the public for fear of damaging the surface. It has been interesting to see how different host museums have protected the piece. One museum had an enormous reinforced pedestal built putting the object well out of the viewers’ reach. Two other museums produced the largest Plexiglas vitrines I have ever seen. The colors of the walls and surrounding art have varied dramatically. The following installation photos are of the Large Seated Nude in the BMA traveling exhibition Matisse: Life in Color.
Recently the Large Seated Nude was reinstalled in the Cone Wing at the BMA. Katy Rothkopf (Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture) and Karen Nielsen (Director of Installation and Exhibition Design) have taken great care to show the piece at its best. Large Seated Nude can be found in the rotunda of the building, surrounded by smaller Matisse sculptures and paintings, under the watchful eye of the BMA Security Staff.
BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.
Reproduction, including downloading, of Henri Matisse works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York