Renting a car, performing brain surgery and then putting a baby to bed: De-installing an art exhibit

The first step of de-installing an exhibition is filling out condition reports, much like checking for damage on a rental car before driving it off the lot. In this case, the art pieces are the cars about to be passed from one renter to the next. The exhibition Heads, Hands, Feet; Sleeping, Holding, Dreaming, Dying came to UMOCA from New York and New Jersey, and will now travel to Bates College.

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The paintings by Robert Feintuch and the sculptures by Rona Pondick had to be checked for watermarks and scratches. Simply getting too close to the art can leave watermarks from saliva deposited while someone turns to a friend to exclaim how much they love a certain detail. Previously existing marks are already included in the condition report binder and any new ones are noted for insurance purposes. Each piece gets its own page of information, so if there is damage the necessary claims can be filed or repairs can be made. Determining the damage of an artwork has a lot to do with whether or not a mark appears consistent with the texture of the painting or sculpture. Unlike the metal frame of a car, it is sometimes hard to pick out an abrasion if it looks like it is actually part of the work’s surface.

Some marks are not considered damage, but still need to be taken care of before the art is shipped off to the next location. Even with around-the-clock supervision, patrons still can’t seem to manage to suppress the urge to touch the art. For those involved in the de-install, this means the blue surgical gloves come on, and the cleaning process with the meticulous requirements of brain surgery begins. Fingerprints on the mirrored surfaces of the sculptures were handled as per specific instructions from the artist. Pondick provided a separate plastic bag containing a yellow microfiber cotton cloth for each piece to avoid transferring abrasives, as well as to ensure that each piece can still be cleaned if the pieces travel separately.

The de-install of Heads, Hands, Feet; Sleeping, Holding, Dreaming, Dying only required the heads, hands and feet of a few people but a great amount of detailing, precision and care. 

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The pieces are swaddled in glassine (an acid-free, oil-free paper) to wrap up the process. This type of paper is passed through rollers to smooth out all the fibers, which makes it a perfect blanket for the art. From there, the process differs depending on the best way to package each piece. For this exhibit, Feintuch’s paintings were wrapped in Tyvek plastic cloth followed by bubble wrap before being placed in a cardboard box and finally in a crate. The sculptures were placed in marked areas of their crates cushioned by Styrofoam and held in place by wooden boards. These babies get very high-end cribs; crates for artwork can end up costing as much as the art itself because they are custom-ordered for each piece.

The de-install of Heads, Hands, Feet; Sleeping, Holding, Dreaming, Dying only required the heads, hands and feet of a few people but a great amount of detailing, precision and care.

-Alejandra Dechet