Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kennedy Museum: Jim Dine

I've been an Art student since leaving home. As soon as I found Art was alive I woke up. Fortunately, a teacher in college helped me find my way and taught me stone carving. He gave me a hammer and chisel and said make something. He asked me to learn about things aesthetics could not express.  After a while, I saw in his work what Art attempts to convey and began to understand the distance between stone carving and stone sculpture and how much there is to learn.

The creative wall in my work hit me after the initial excitement exhausted itself. I don't really remember when that happened but I began to question what and why, instead of  just enjoying making sculpture. He could see in what I was making, the trouble I was in. Finally, he said he could start teaching me something.

Art Handling started after school because it seemed the best way to make money. A friend had seen an add on a bulletin board about a job driving a truck and shipping/ handling Art. I had an interview, was hired and a week later drove a 26,000 lb. gvw truck to Texas. I was hooked immediately: visiting galleries, Museums and meeting Artists all across the country, I started to see what I was looking for by handling the efforts of others interested in the same question and proving it in their work, from ancient Art to what's being made now.

The Kennedy Museum of Art, has an exhibition of Sculpture and prints by Jim Dine. It opened last month, July 7, 2011. He's an important American Artist. He's represented by Pace Galleries in NYC. I loved going to their 57th St. Gallery. On the DC/NYC shuttle, it was a common destination. Walking into their store room and then into the Galleries themselves was always a treat. You saw on their walls and floors what the Art world thought about the state of the Art and how it was valued. Every month a new show. I'd go in, sign some paperwork and walk out with an Art piece by someone like Jim Dine.

I was contacted by the head registrar of the Kennedy Museum asking if I would be interested in working with his staff  in installing the sculpture for their  upcoming Jim Dine show. I was recommended to them as a sculpture specialist and they were interested in a bid to help. Many of the sculptures were over 1,000 lbs. and there were logistical problems just moving the crates into the building. The largest, as measured by the paperwork, wouldn't fit through the dock door. I immediately said of course.

I was lucky and got the job. He and his staff were great. Being there for parts of two weeks turned out to be amazing. The town of Athens, Ohio was too much fun: excellent locavore food, great beer and live music, from old time to bebop. The people I met treated me like old friends.

We installed all the sculpture in three days. They were bronzes: large and heavy. Handling them in their crates was difficult but in the end were all placed where an initial site map thought they should go. There was a lot of discussion on object/ floor space relationships. The gantry was set up and we rigged the largest piece. We talked about how the Art looked in the rooms and did what we could: I like seeing tape measures come out and asking if a 1/4" is important. When we were done, it looked good, but we all knew everything was still subject to change.

I returned the next week to help fine tune the exhibition. Mr. Dine would be there to oversee the final placement of his work in the gallery space. I was introduced to him, his wife, the Artist Diana Michener and their assistant, Jason Treffry. I was impressed. Seeing him in the middle of his pieces made me smile. I could see in their interplay what he understood and began to understand why. After a while, he looked at me and said the sculptures have to be rearranged.  "OK, how many?" I asked. He replied, " Maybe all of them."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Capitol of Virginia: Bronze Sculpture Install

We're in the middle of summer and it's hot. Working outside can be difficult and a challenge to stay cool in projects that require clear thinking and constant troubleshooting. It's easy to try for shortcuts to finish faster. Sometimes, unaware of being lazy, you can get yourself in trouble and make choices that lead to more not less work. Moving Art is always problematic, when it's 100 degrees outside it can be a problem.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to be involved in moving and installing a 1000 lb.bronze sculpture for the Capitol of Virginia's new Visitor's Center in Richmond, Va. I had heard about the project from 2 separate companies and finally was contacted directly by the staff at the Capitol. Apparently, they  hoped the installation could be completed asap and because of it's difficulty there was a lot of uncertainty. The sculpture was too big for the elevator and where it was to be installed there was 32' of steps. From the bottom of the staircase, to the top step, it looked like we had to climb a small pyramid.

There was a flurry of emails as the project scope began to develop. Finally, they asked if I would work with Artex, Inc. as this would simplify the contracting process. The Capitol was very familiar with both of us. I had previously worked for Artex and acted as the on-site project manager responsible for the safe handling/ packing/ and transporting of all the Art when the Capitol was renovated a few years ago and then again, responsible for the installation of the Art when the restoration was completed. That project was about the best thing I have done professionally. For a stone sculptor, handling the Jean-Antoine Houdon's marble sculpture: the full size George Washington and the bust of  Lafayette was a revelation.

The bronze sculpture was to be picked up in Fredericksburg, Va. first. Already at 8 am it was 90 degrees and humid. It was packed in a steel handling frame for transport.

Discussing the project with the owner and the crew the difficulties ahead started to get clearer. The size of the sculpture base @ 72" diameter required us to flip it 90 degrees in order to pass through obstacles, doors and hallways. A forklift would be provided in Richmond to rig it to the door and then we would be on our own. Already dripping from the heat, I started to sweat about the work. As we were leaving, the owner of the sculpture took me aside and said he was most worried about the steps. How were we going to overcome that problem. I told him we were prepared but that I wasn't ready to answer him. He asked how long did I think it would take? " One day," I replied. He smiled and said he and a associate had bet it couldn't be done. I smiled and said I'll take that bet. " How about a coffee at Starbucks?"

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Buddha: Center for Wisdom and Compassion-Tongnyi Nyingjé Ling

In May, I got a call regarding a sculpture I had installed a couple years ago wondering if I could provide another estimate to move and install it again. The sculpture was a stone Buddha that needed to be transported from Vienna, Va. to Berne, NY.  I was driving, there was a lot of static over the phone and  I asked that she email me what she wanted so I could understand the scope of the project. Details in her email included delivery and installation of Buddha asap to the Center for Wisdom and Compassion, a non-profit Buddhist lodge and retreat. There was a special event coming: the visit of His Holiness Sakya Trizin  to bless the lodge and it would be special if the Buddha could be in place to receive his blessing too.  He would arrive in two weeks and they had a limited budget. After a few calls I started to understand their request. I am not a Buddhist, but I honor him and those who believe. I had seen and heard the Dalai Lama speak years ago and his message of peace then is needed even more now. Researching Tibetan Buddhism, I began to see who Sakya Trizin is and what he represents. How could I help?

Unfortunately, because of the budget it was not possible to do the project conventionally. There were a lot of steps and costs: packing/ rigging/transport/installation. However, because of the nature of the project, I found ways to reduce the price. We originally used a small crane to rig Buddha onto the deck but I decided we could do without it and save there. I would make the crate and provide the crew for the de-install in Va. but the largest cost would be transport of that crew to Berne, NY for installation. As our discussions progressed I began to realize that I wanted this project very much to happen. It was becoming personal. I finally suggested I could install Buddha myself if they could have help when the Buddha and I arrived. I believed. I had been preparing for something like this for a long time.

The Buddha is stone and weighs about 1,000 lbs. It was seated in a corner of a living room with the exit door 29" (w) leading to a raised back yard deck. Because of this limitation we packed Buddha outside. We were able to set up my gantry and rig it to the lawn. The gantry is aluminum, very light, with adjustable legs. We put the short leg on the deck and the long leg on the yard with the i-beam level. The rigged crate floated over the rail and landed softly on the grass below.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Planting Spring Sculpture

Spring sculpture planting season is back. After a winter of cold and snow, color is awake and flowers are opening. It's a good time to compliment nature with Art. At home in the landscape, what Artists make can bloom too.

Because I am a stone sculptor, I'm lucky and I get to work with other stone sculptures. Most art handling companies decline these opportunities for obvious reasons: liability and danger. People have gotten hurt and the Art damaged. Specialized equipment is only a first step, how to use the tools and troubleshoot during the project is the Art part. Experience through the job is the least effective way to gain awareness. The practice of art handling, ideally, does not start with the client's work. As scale and scope increases, the ability to test skills diminishes. Who has objects that weigh a ton or more to play with?

This project involved a stone sculpture purchased in Florida and transported to Md. I was asked to provide an estimate based on size and weight of sculpture: 74" x 45" x 50" @ 3,200 lbs. I was told the installation would be straight forward and accessibility to the clients pedestal reasonable. They asked me to google earth the address. I saw where it would be placed and made a proposal. As the project moved forward and the delivery date closer, the client wanted to make sure I understood what was expected. Meeting him at his house, he showed  me where and what he wanted. The pedestal was integrated into the edge of a stone retaining wall. The wall dropped 38" to the main landscape grade covered with decorative shrubs. Beside the pedestal careful roses showed off their spring flowers. Behind the pedestal there was a wall of wild plantings 12" above the pedestal level. Walking through the garden I asked if there was another way inside. The garden gate was only 32" wide. He said to come with him in his car to the house next door where the access would be easier. We drove up the driveway and he pointed through a wall of shrubs and small trees. We walked through them right to the waiting pedestal. He said OK, he'll have a small tree cut down and I could do what was was necessary to get through. I said OK.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mint Museum: Stanislay Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova

Occasionally, you're asked to be involved in a project that comes to you based on goodwill accumulated over years of good service. I had done work for the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC but had not been back there for years. Through mutual friends, Bonsai Inc., I was asked if I wanted to be involved in de-installing and then re-installing a large scale glass sculpture by the Czech artists Stanislay Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova. The Museum was relocating to a new building and this was among the last pieces to be moved. Because of the complexity of the project scope, they wanted someone who could troubleshoot problems and communicate practical answers, having me on board eased their worries. It was a commissioned piece made of 10 cast glass panels, each about a thousand pounds. There were two rows of five panels, the top five were bolted to an i-beam welded to structural steel in the ceiling and the bottom five were bolted to a steel plate on the floor. About 1/4" separated the two rows of shapes and both rows were in perfect plane from top to bottom and plumb side to side. Though difficult, de-installing the piece was the easier part. Confirming how to understand how each glass panel related to each other to make the whole was the question and then transferring this data to the new site, on the third floor of the new building, the challenge. Where it was to be installed, construction crews had already set the i-beam in the ceiling and a steel plate was epoxied to the floor. However, only the holes in the above i-beam were drilled. The construction crew did not want to be responsible for the bolt holes in the floor plate, since we were working inside 1/16" tolerance. That was the Art part. I had fretted how to locate the holes, and since it was my responsibility, thought about lasers, fancy tools and other esoteric measurement schemes. We had 24 holes to drill and each drilled hole had to be tapped square to the floor. They all had to be perfect. In the end I decided simple was best. I had a machinist make an aluminum plug the same diameter as the bolt hole in the ceiling i-beam with a 1/8" hole drilled dead center in the plug. A string line threaded through the hole and a plumb bob was lowered to the plate on the floor. It was about 14' between floor and ceiling. We all watched the plumb bob spin until it finished it's dance pointing to exact dead center. It was perfect.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bronze Sculpture Installation

The weather has been playing tricks, it's early Spring and outside there's snow and icy rain. If you work outside then the work can be difficult and miserable, a good forecast can be wishful thinking. In scheduling outdoor art installations, there's too many fixed factors that prevent rescheduling: coordination of rental equipment, material deliveries and the crew. Sometimes, you just have to put on your warmest clothes and a raincoat and make the best of it.

In this project, the client had a bronze sculpture in need of conservation, pinned to a stone base about 6' tall that was cracked and in need of replacement. A design for a new limestone base was accepted and manufacture of the base started. As a first step, we had to de-install the sculpture, rig it to the ground for the conservators to do their magic and remove the old base. Because the actual work site was out of town for myself and the crew and all the steps needed to start the project was already in motion, we decided to go ahead and start. The rain was a problem. I had brought extra rain coats and gloves and we soaked thru all of them. I had the crew sit in the truck with the heater on high for a little bit of comfort in between the de-install steps with our gloves on the heater vent trying to dry. It was actually a lot of fun. The crew was great, when you work with people you love, the work can be creative and inspiring. The rigging of the sculpture went perfect. For safety, we waited until the next day to dismantle the base. We would need to use electric hammer drills to break it up. The forecast was suppose to be better.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Delaware Art Museum: Al Held, " Rome 11"

I've been thinking about large painting installation since my last post and I realize it's not often you get the chance to work in that scale and scope. Size is the problem for the artist and collector. Who has studio space and help to work that large and who has a wall to display it? Generally, Museums have their own staff to handle the work and the few Art Handling Specialists who are lucky enough to be involved, are more often assistants in the process and not the lead in the project. For me, figuring out how, is the lucky part. Each step must be reasonable, cost effective and visually self explanatory with safety for the Art and crew the primary starting point. Viewers should be able to see, understand and make sense of the progression of the installation. Indeed, the installation is part of the "Art Show."

A favorite Museum of mine is the Delaware Art Museum. I've been fortunate to have worked there installing both large scale sculpture and paintings. In 2005, after renovation and expansion, the Museum re-opened. Among the Art works brought back from storage during Museum construction, the great Al Held painting:" Rome 11," was returned. I led the team which installed it. Difficulties included common building restrictions: smaller door openings, steps and low hallway ceilings. The main challenge was the actual wall where it would be hung. Below the painting, a stairwell to a lower floor was in the way, with a fixed stair rail in between the floor and wall. Floor load capacity and building configuration inhibited equipment that could be brought inside to rig the painting over steps. In general, I always prefer the crew to work naturally with minimum hardship, in that situation, ladders were not an option. Also, the building was in the last stages of finishing. Construction crews were still on-site, ideally, the install method would have a small footprint, use common tools, minimally intrude on others working and be able to set up and be taken down quickly. I decided to build a rolling deck based on two sections of scaffold. Cantilevered floor joists attached to the scaffold walk boards served as the base. We were able to assemble most of the deck, comfortably on the main floor and then roll the construction over the stair rail. 2" x 4" studs from edge of deck to steps below reinforced the deck for strength.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Mural Installation: John Bassett Moore School

Each project is unique, special and an opportunity to learn about Art. It's a privilege to be involved in responding to the needs of individual pieces, to be in a position to design the total scope of installing Art, especially as scale and difficulty increases. How and where Art fits is an early question and I'm always rejuvenated in that discussion.

The mural above is by Willard Borow, painted in the 1940's, installed in the theater of the John Bassett Moore Intermediate School in Smyrna, Delaware. This is one of two murals installed, both 14' (h) x 10' (w). I was asked to design and fabricate the hanging hardware and be responsible for the installation method. This was special because it came from a client I had done work for years earlier. This was the second part of a greater project. I had previously led the team that de-installed these two murals, among others, including a larger 60' (l) mural in three parts that hung 30' (h) over the theater stage. Photo below.

These murals had been installed for decades in the theater and were badly in need of conservation. Because of limited funds, the mural above the stage was the priority. The two Borow paintings were to be kept in storage until a later date. It was a great surprise to receive the call asking if I would consider finishing the project. How the school found me again was a timely reminder of Art Handling as a personal return business. The school had called the company I had previously worked for and understanding I was no longer employed there they contacted me directly.

The conservation of the Borow paintings were finally undertaken under the guidance of the University of Delaware, Art Conservation Dept. Since the murals could not fit through doors, they were brought into the Theater rolled and re-stretched on the stage floor. Site restrictions included a sloped theater floor, fixed chair rows and 32" aisles. The bottom of the murals were required to be hung above child hand height, placing the top of the murals above 18' (h). Because of the thin aisle width everything was tight. The face of the scaffold was approx. 12" from the wall, just enough room to carry the murals between the wall and scaffold, position the lift to carry the mural to the exact install height and have reasonable reach for tools and hands.

Art in venues outside urban centers, Museums, galleries, auction houses and private collections is a great reminder of their original intention. Sometimes people in the community just love it.