Saturday, December 19, 2009
Art handling is all about balance, understanding the physical presence of the object/ Art and recognizing how to touch it. " ..Do know harm.." is a pretty good mantra, how to do it is the Art: Art handling part. In this business you learn through experience and that is at once the problem and reward. It's a practice, like other professions, and the ideal is something that's mandatory in it's practice. Of course this can be difficult and impossible, especially in groups where consensus is absolutely necessary. As the Art gets as big or bigger than us it becomes less personal and this distance represents the difference in the quality of the Art Handler. Here's a list of possible sculptural materials and their weights. Handling stone sculpture is a good measure. Marble can be 171 lbs. a cubic ft. A life size figure is heavy.
I love the range of Art. Objects are always dissimilar. The Art part of Art Handling is the creative prerequisite. How am I going to do it is something I always begin with. In doubt I let my instincts take over and I stop and reconsider when I have none. I wrote in an earlier post about the National Geographic's: Ceramic Warriors Show. I was primed for it by having just installed a stone Buddha for a private collector. It/ he/ is/was beautiful. I love that part of the world and the imagery / philosophy of both Warriors and Buddha seem culturally supplementary. I'm ripe for Zen, how little I know of it. The Art Handler's responsibility is to be perfect. Handling stuff like this, one after the other, is a barometer of where we're @.
I received a call based on this blog for the first time. I was asked the possibilities of de-installing and then re-installing Buddha from it's present residence to another house not too far away. At the site visit, I verified it was about 1200 lbs. The client and I hit it off, the Buddha was well loved and he wanted an aesthetic treatment commensurate with what Buddha represents. He had already spoken to a rigging company and was apprehensive about their methods. He told me he had gone through the yellow pages in vain and by accident found me. The search had taken some time and he wanted to know if I could do it ASAP as the household move was immanent. There were difficult obstacles in both locations: steps, doors, truck accessibility, object placement, that required a gantry, crane truck, etc. and since I owned all the rigging equipment, that part was not a problem. I told him I would build a handling frame/ pallet on site and I could de-install/ pack/ re-install Buddha in one day. Before I left I asked him how did he get it in the house in the first place. He told me a story about purchasing the Buddha from a dealer in Asia. It was crated, shipped and delivered to his house and left in his front yard. He was wondering what to do about it when he was visited by 15 Tibetan Buddhist monks. Somehow along with himself and another friend they managed to bring the Buddha into the house and install it on it's wood pedestal, but he said it was not easy. I loved that image. As I was leaving, he asked how many guys I would bring? I told him two.
We set up the aluminum gantry with two chain falls on the i-beam and placed Buddha in position. We wrapped two straps on either side of the figure with opposite chokes, careful where the tension would touch the body and hooked them to the chain falls. In slow motion we raised each chain fall by chain link feeling the balance and adjusting as needed. Without a sound the seated Buddha rose. In the air it floated perfectly level. The client looked at me and said something like, .." You made it levitate."
Video music: excerpt.." Perhaps it Matters." Mack on bass, Ben Gage on guitar
Thursday, November 19, 2009
This week, the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC opens a wonderful show centered on the fantastic Ceramic Warriors found in China in the grave of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, 35 years ago. These objects date to the 3rd century BC, and of that army of soldiers, 15 warriors and related artifacts including a full size horse are now installed in the newly designed Museum space. It's a dramatic history lesson in clay of a buried past by an ancient culture a hemisphere and 2 millennium away. It's accidental discovery by local farmers sounds more like fiction than history, a story better suited for movies than museums. The Washington Post has a photo essay here and an article here. Looking at the figures outside their context, with little understanding of their original intention, Art and sculpture are among the only words to describe them.
困難的項目是我們的特色：安裝 /解除安裝，索具，包裝 /裝箱
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
On September 30, The National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., opened a Public Observatory to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy. Inside, "... the centerpiece of the Public Observatory Project is a 16-inch Boller & Chivens telescope. The telescope was originally part of Harvard-Smithsonian's Oak Ridge Observatory in Harvard, Massachusetts. It was used for astronomical research until recent years, and is now on loan to the National Air and Space Museum for the Public Observatory Project."
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Anne Truitt , the great artist, sculptor, teacher, author, mentor….will have a retrospective of her work @ the Hirschhorn Museum of Art: Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection: October 8, 2009 to January 3, 2010. It gives me a formal opportunity to thank her for her help in shaping my work/ process and to share with others who don’t know about her contribution not just locally in Washington DC, but Art in general in the 20th century and beyond. The Washington Post has written 2 articles about her here and here and I just found this from Smithsonian.com.
I met her while I was a student at the University of Md. She was an iconic figure there and people, both teachers and students alike, felt fortunate to be included in her orbit. Sometimes I would carry her school bags to her car. She was well regarded not just because of what she had already done and was doing but also because she could speak personally about a profession like Art. She made Art accessible and we believed her. She was true to the dialectic. We never felt patronized. She spoke with us about subjects around and above us. Her discussions focused less on our art work and more in the quality of our convictions in the work: the technique which allowed the truth of it, not the paintbrush or chisel. She just wanted it to work.
In my last year at the University I asked her to be my thesis advisor. She said she had stopped taking anymore students and besides I already had a commitment to a point of view: stone sculpture. Would studying with her be helpful? My carving teacher Ken Campbell had just retired and I told her frankly she was the only one in the faculty who understood what I wanted to understand. She asked me about stuff and I couldn't answer her, the words just stumbled one after the other until finally I gave up. She said not to worry, she would help. What was important was that it was in the air. My job was to stay sensitive to it and that I would get it later.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Every now and then I get a call asking if I can undertake a project asap. The Art involved is usually valuable and difficult to handle. I almost always am unable to do a site visit. The information trail is just enough to understand scope and because of the immediacy of the project, resources both in help and tool choices are restricted or non-existent. Typically, it’s difficult to create a team on short notice, and since the percentage of projects which go through based on these requests may average one in ten, I am hesitant to ask other professionals without some guarantee. It’s like crying wolf, after a while who listens. I am sensitive about asking people to change or break their schedule, especially on the proposal level. Still, I’ll go ahead and try to figure out how to do them, I love the challenge and the work.
This project involved de-installing and packing a great sculpture by Aristide Maillol. It’s cast lead and preliminary weight estimate was at 2500 lbs. I knew the piece from books. As a sculptor I took survey art history classes in school and where I could, I searched for the pieces from favorite artists in Museums all over the country while I was driving an Art truck over the road. I had even worked on a similar sculpture years ago, a different posed figure by the same artist. I was comfortable with the scope as I understood and imagined it.
The client requested the sculpture to be palletized and because of the weight, I was responsible for loading of the sculpture onto the truck. The drivers were not prepared to handle something like this. The sculpture itself was in the middle of a large yard. I had no photos to describe the installation, only an earlier photo of a previous installation. I was told shrubs would have to be removed for access and the lawn surface protected from any equipment I chose to use. Everything I would need had to be brought and built on-site, from tools to materials. Luckily, a landscape company who worked there on the grounds was offered as help. I called the owner and it was a welcome conversation: they had an all terrain forklift and operator, experience in working with the sculpture and several guys available who could assist. By Friday we had finalized the deal. On early Sunday morning I left in my pickup truck with my carpentry setup, gantry and rigging equipment. Driving 500 miles, with a forecast of heavy rain, I hoped to get to the sculpture by late afternoon to take a look at what I was up against. Finally, on-site, looking at it reclining, I relaxed. At a hotel nearby, after beers and pizza, I finally went to sleep. In the morning there was a nearby Starbucks for coffee and a Home Depot to buy pallet and packing materials. The work day was overcast, but it did not rain. Starting at 8 am, everything had to be finished by 2-3 pm. The truck pickup was scheduled to arrive between 2-4 pm that same day with direct delivery to a different city the next morning 780 miles away. The clients representative was generous and gracious. Up close the sculpture was powerful masterwork.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I began my first job as an art handler like many of us, answering an ad for art handlers posted on a bulletin board. I didn’t even see the ad; a friend called and told me about it. I had never considered Art handling as a job. I didn't know anybody who did it for a living but I was just out of art school, hanging out and thought maybe I could do this for a while. A group of four of us talked about it and decided that we’d interview together. We were all friends and unemployed and needed the money. We scheduled a meeting and after the interview, I walked out the door thinking the interview went great and I had a job. What I wasn’t ready for and what I didn't really understand was the job description: drive a climate controlled, 5 speed transmission 2 axle box truck from Washington DC to where ever: California, Florida, Maine, etc…. and pickup and deliver art. I had never driven a truck, had little experience using a manual transmission and didn't really understand what I was suppose to do when handling the art. I came in on a Saturday for a test drive. Surprisingly, the guy who was giving the test turned out to be a friend from my old neighborhood, who actually had been class mates with a sister in grade school and had become an artist. I hadn’t seen him for years. ( Mike Semyan is a great painter.) After driving around the block and going over what all the buttons and switches did in the cab all he could say was good luck: get to wherever you’re suppose to go, pickup/ deliver the Art and come back home. The next week I was headed for Texas. It was all new, unknown, uncomfortably strange, dangerous and I loved it immediately.
When I was an art student, I would work on stuff, most times I’d hit a wall and end up not knowing what to do next. I’d work and after a while my carving teacher, Ken Campbell, would come by, shake his head and say turn it over and look at it again. It took me a long time to understand he didn’t mean the stone. I’d turn the stone over and over and after the dust settled, I’d still only see a carved rock and not a sculpture. It was only later that I understood that opposite, peripheral, complimentary, perpendicular thinking is a technique like another hammer or chisel that you find in your bag with the other tools only with practice and luck. From the National Gallery of Art, http://www.nga.gov/education/american/abstract.shtm: Artists make these transformations in an effort to communicate something they cannot convey through realistic treatment. Works of art that reframe nature for expressive effect are called abstract.
Every now and then I would be involved in an Art Handling project that would make me struggle conceptually for reasonable answers. The road from idea to manufacture can be all curves and broken bridges. The problem generally would be something I’d never done before with new techniques I’d have to integrate and introduce to the client and the groups I work with. Last year a request came from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, located at the Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington DC. They wanted to move and place in exhibition a 7’ x 7’ x 7” concrete slab, cut out from the floor of a field hospital in Iraq. For the full story, here’s the link, http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/exhibits/balad/balad1.html. The main problem: how to bring the object in through the front door, maximum width @ 54”, down the hall, past several tight turns and into the room where it would be displayed. Riggers had already been consulted but the Museum wanted another opinion. They requested the doors not be removed and that a display/ mounting solution be incorporated in the final design, weight of slab and mount approx. 2 tons.
Turning the problem in my head, with great input from the client, meant understanding how to pivot the slab on its side, at an angle where the outside dimensions would ideally be around 53” maximum so that it would slide through the front door. The final structural, engineered solution would be a handling frame to protect the slab during transit, with an integrated rigging solution manufactured in the mount to rig the object/ mount with either a gantry or forklift to the required angle, then back down to its horizontal display position and finally, also be beautiful enough for museum quality presentation.
I jumped at the chance to understand how to do that.
Friday, July 17, 2009
The advantage of being an artist who works as an art handler is the continued opportunity for advanced study, especially if you can find yourself working inside your discipline on the job. For the stone sculptor, handling other stone sculptures offers us a glimpse not just how these pieces were made but how they feel. The reward becomes both aesthetic and technical in the execution of our own work. It’s a personal blessing to have been responsible for master work as diverse as ancient Chinese, Classical Western and modern sculpture.
Generally, artists find themselves as a result of systems/ schools/ teachers. Awareness of tools and aesthetics start from this exposure, along with going to galleries, museums, reading, listening and hanging out. If we're able, we travel, perhaps attend graduate school or an atelier, find a peer group and begin our careers. Sometimes we find work in a foundry or other Arts related business. Our tool box is filled with what we've been given and our individual creativity, ambition and circumstances finds the other stuff which defines our voice and art however we can.
I am a stone carver. I studied under a great teacher/ artist/ stone carver: Kenneth Campbell for about 5 years in the University system. He came from Boston/ Provincetown, lived and worked in NYC, maturing in the midst of what we now call Abstract Expressionism. He was @ the center of that era’s star formation. The “Club” use to meet, drink and hang out in his studio. He was a true believer/ practitioner. As a result, his method was abstract and non-objective and so was his teaching method. There wasn't much to talk about because for most it was nonsense with no real nouns except for the stone you're working on, to look at as an example. He wanted us to not copy anything and to find our own way thru the process of working/ being.
He didn't always carve stone. He was a draughtsman and a painter. In his forties, he told me, “The objects just popped out of the canvas." William de Kooning showed him that. To become a sculptor was the next natural step. However, because he started late, he was basically self taught. His technique, idiosyncratic and personal, is a pure expression of what Abstraction demands. I didn't know that until I got my first art handling job.
As an artist, most of the time, except for your own work, you're only allowed to look at other's work. You cannot touch it. If it's a painting, a photo or wall piece, you cannot look at the back of the piece to see how it’s made. If it's a sculpture put against a wall you can't get critical distance to understand the 3rd dimension. We learn to know Art mostly as a visual experience and that becomes a valuable virtual tool.
Stone sculpture does not exist only in the visual world. It can be heavy, big and dangerous. Injuries happen all the time. Handling it requires an intuitive reading of balance and weight. Damage usually happens on the first move. With the variety of forms we handle, from ancient to modern, the ability to adjust equipment, tools and personnel brought to the job, immediately, describes the quality of our efforts. Handling these sculptures in Museums, Galleries and Private Collections is an eye opener. You have to be perfect not just in the technical aspects of the project but also in the protocol with everyone involved. There's a lot at stake. Communication of intention and then it's execution defines us. Ambiguity equals doubt. As an example, generally, if you go to any collection with 19th century marble sculptures you will see that most if not all are chipped at the bases. It’s understandable for ancient sculptures to be damaged; visually the broken parts have been fuel for artists the last few centuries, but in more recent times the chipping is the result of failed moves and a reflection of the quality of the art handlers and their techniques. It is unacceptable now.
I remember on my first jobs moving stone sculptures as an art handler, what I learned from Ken Campbell didn't communicate well. On his own stuff, he used construction scaffold with a piece of galvanized i-beam cut from a highway girder. He wasn't a modern rigger with slings, trolleys and gantry's, he used ropes and knots, actual ship rigging, which he learned growing up in New England along with a lot of manual tricks: wood shims and balance. Bringing a similar tool bag brought a lot of ridicule and questions, especially when I was around professionals: museum staff, rigging companies, and collectors, who were dogmatic in what was acceptable. I had to adjust pretty quickly and learn to communicate in their terms, if I wanted to be included in that group. For a long time art handlers were only there to listen and assist. I understand now that that’s correct. There is a deep need to elevate skill sets and protocol, especially as the projects get difficult and participant responsibilities more examined. However, for the Artist,with practice and sensitivity, awareness/techniques discovered and nurtured in the studio can become unique, specialized tools, capable of complimenting and adding to, current professional Art moving standards, especially, when all the pragmatic choices seem to have run out: the Art in Art Handling.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The Washington DC arts community had hard, sad news this week. Mark Planisek: artist, art handler and friend passed away tragically, struck by a vehicle in a crosswalk near the Clarendon metro station after leaving an art opening at the Arlington Arts Center in which he was exhibiting, " Sparkplug: New Work."
I first met Mark while I was still driving a truck moving Art in a company I used to work for. We didn't work together often, I was an over the road driver and he mostly worked locally. However, every now and then we'd meet and in the small cab of the truck we became friends. He was a conversationalist, at night we talked about a lot of stuff but it always ended up @ art. He was a true believer and he had ambition. After a while he gradually decided to leave, it's a difficult job, the money's variable, every day can be different, with scheduling and plans often times impossible to make. He was fortunate to get a great job at the National Portrait Gallery where he found a living and the time to practice his art form.
The last time I saw him was in late March at the The Ritchie Avenue Cultural Center in Takoma Park, Md. where I was giving a talk on Art and Art Handling. I wasn't really expecting anybody to come but after they turned the lights on, there he was. He came up to me and even though it had been a while since we had last seen each other, wherever the conversation started, we ended up talking about Art. He reminisced about a project he helped me with @ the National Portrait Gallery and how much he enjoyed being part of the crew. The video shows that project. We were part of the group that de-installed " Grant and His Generals." It was a difficult de-installation. It is a large heavy curved painting hung in a stairwell. I felt fortunate to be asked to be involved as I love this kind of work. There was much concern about keeping the integrity of the curve as it was taken off the wall and then brought up the stairs. We were able to design a handling frame on-site that responded to these details. When successful, these projects can show the Art in Art Handling.
Mark, if you haven't met him, is wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt. He's in the middle of the group, on scaffold, in the first scene. It hasn't been easy to reflect on his passing, from the emails and messages I get everyday, I see it's been true for many others also. The news has hit me at a time where I have been in the studio, carving, unsure, wanting more from the form than possibly I can make, struggling for meaning. Mark has amplified the search.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Public Art always involves folks like you and me who seek it out, in whichever building or landscape it's installed, we're suppose to look , learn and enjoy. This process begins from the moment the Art is wanted and the project has been budgeted. From an Art installers point of view, companies/ individuals are allowed to respond to the RFP: the formal proposal of the project, only if they're eligible because they've navigated the process, proved themselves worthy and found themselves in a position to be asked. Whatever your credentials or ambition unless you know how to be recognized, even if you have all the necessary paperwork and insurances, you're not necessarily invited to submit a proposal to install the Art. If you want to do this and you are lucky to be invited in the room, get all the info about the project, attend the site visit and meet with everybody else who wants it too, it begins a personal and professional travail, at once cooperative and competitive, to get it done perfectly/ beautifully. This project involves a steel sculpture @ 107" x 72" x 13" with a steel pedestal @ 4' x 8' x 1", both @ about 1300 lbs to be installed in Manhattan. Because of the sizes and weights involved, the logistical difficulty of unloading from the street and bringing them both through a 34" door, the limitations of equipment choices in an enclosed space with floor load bearing restrictions and low ceiling height of 12' 4", professional rigging companies were brought in by the other Art Handling companies as their experts. Generally, Art Handlers have not been seen to be qualified to do this kind of work, even within their own companies, and justifiably so, these projects are dangerous. There is always something that cannot be planned, a tool which was not brought or a dilemma which creates an uncertain drama without an immediate answer. There is little training for this, certainly not on the job site. Luckily, I'm a stone carver who carves heavy, large stones. I love this kind of work and the energy and trouble shooting it demands. It seemed natural to me, early in wanting to do this professionally, seeing which kinds of people and companies were involved, that an Artist could find a place in this. I believe the installation process from start to finish is Art.
The Art Handler is an extension of the Artist, the representative of the person who made the Art: the aesthetic pathway the Artist expresses to us, from inspiration to object, who generally isn't there. We speak/ act for that person. However, the Art Handler, is bound by a pragmatic budget and the constraints of others involved where Art criteria, experience can be minimized because it's a business and competitive pricing is the major concern. Generally, it's for the better, limits have a way to help navigate the choices, however difficult. The Art Handler will have insight, sensitivity and do the right thing as if it is their own piece. We have practiced this on our own stuff and it's the technique which opens solutions. Anyway, the Artist myth is always about struggling, the Art part is making it work, regardless of the problems.
Who speaks for the Artist?
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Art and Art Handling.
Hello, I am a working artist who makes a living handling Art. I specialize in installation and de-installation of large scale sculpture and paintings. I have been lucky to have been involved in many great projects for Museums, private clients and artists. Generally, my job is to make the Art work. In installation, I take things out of crates and boxes and place them where they look their best. Presentation is one of the final aesthetic steps of Art. How it is seen provides the opportunity for the objects inherent quality to be displayed and done well: amplified. Tuning to this idea has been a major component of my own personal work, as if Art is a frequency or an instrument, or better, the Artist is the instrument tuning to Art's frequency.
In this project I was asked to design a hanging solution for a set of chimes purchased in the last Art Basil Miami Show. The client had a similar, but much smaller chime, hanging from a tree, but requested a different solution for the much larger piece. After a few design ideas, we settled on this one. It's about 21' tall and 12' wide. It was a difficult install; we had to bring in a small crane
and with the surrounding trees and finished landscape in the way it took hours before we could pour the concrete footers. After the concrete set, we came back and installed the chimes. When the first bit of wind whispered through the the tubes the gong and overtones sang. The song was like an ancient bell calling.