Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Courier post

One of the greatest of curatorial perks is at risk, in the US anyway. Ask any curator what they dream of at night and (apart from the oddities who say art) they will tell you it’s being a courier. Now we aren’t talking bikes and shoulder bags here but air travel and hotels. For years now public museums have insisted on couriers accompanying valuable art works when they are shipped off to exhibitions in other countries, and those couriers are often curators. How much protection they could in fact afford the work is another matter. Sometimes it might sit up in business class in a seat but anecdotes abound about the fate of works relegated to the hold. Rothko crates leaking coloured water onto the tarmac as rain pelted down and the courier raced about looking for a tarp is one of the more popular. The reality is that most curators are the last people you’d put in a situation that required quick thinking and instant action.

Now, thanks to I’m-setting-fire-to-my-shoe guy and why-is-smoke -coming-out-of-his-lap person the American Aviation authorities have tightened up air cargo security. Art that in the past could be secured at the point of freighting i.e. a gallery, a collector’s home or a museum is now liable for inspection by airport security like any other luggage that goes into the hold. Given the specialist packing, high value and fragility involved this is not good. 

Big-time museums like MoMA have solved the problem with their own certificated-secure packing facilities, but that’s way beyond most institutions. Even those expensive watercolours strapped into a spare seat are now subject to official search. And of course no more running round the tarmac looking for tarps.