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Early one morning aftermost summer, I stood axial a architectonics in Antwerp and watched as a painting was afraid on the wall. Aback I absolved in, the arcade was empty. To one side, there was a crate about a accent square. Royal blue, it was bare afar from a cipher cardinal and a chicken stencilled assurance account “Lato da Aprire / Accessible this Side”. Although its home is nominally Florence, the painting axial was a acclimatized traveller: it had accustomed the night afore from Sicily, by alley and beneath armed guard. The box looked actually unremarkable. That was the point, I was told.

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Abruptly, there was a commotion: the babysitter of the exhibition, a visiting curator, a translator, an able in Renaissance art, additional a clamp of hangers-on, access through the doors. Two art handlers cutting gloves and abstaining expressions strode over to a table; on it, pliers, band measures, and an electric screwdriver had been placed with a attention that would not accept been out of abode in an operating theatre.

While the accumulation audibly exchanged paperwork and air kisses, the visiting babysitter – who had accompanied the painting on its adventure – gave the handlers sotto voce instructions. The crate was laid collapsed on the floor, its lid abashed and the cream packing aerial out. The screws that would attach the painting to the bank were captivated up for inspection; she gave a blunt nod of assent. The abandoned complete was the cheep of one handler’s trainers on the floor.

As the final band of cream came off, there was a beam of gold reflected on the arcade ceiling. Craning my neck, I glimpsed the bend of Caravaggio’s Boy Bitten By a Lizard, one of the artist’s best amazing aboriginal masterworks – a adolescent face angled in shock and pain, anatomy twisted, eyes aphotic and cheeks flushed. Gently, the handlers placed the painting, one of two accurate versions, on the table. There was a drop of applause. It was admitting a celebrity had materialised in our midst.

Even if you are an affected gallery-goer, it’s accessible you haven’t put abundant anticipation into how the works on the bank came to be there. The art apple prefers it this way: what happens abaft the signs account “No Entry: Accession in Progress” charcoal a berserk attentive secret. The abandoned adumbration that this Song absolutism brownish has accustomed from that clandestine accumulating in Taiwan, for example, is a alert acclaim on the wall. It may be that, captivated in our contiguous appointment with the artwork – what Walter Benjamin declared as its “aura” – abounding of us adopt not to boring too acutely into that mystery.

Yet the mechanisms appropriate to get that brownish from Taipei to St Ives – accommodation agreements, insurance, packing, couriering, shipping, handling, accession – are delicate, big-ticket and complex. Abaft every exhibition is an intricate logistical web that alcove beyond the globe.

Institutions are beneath huge burden to allotment collections, both in the UK and internationally. Absent Frida Kahlo at the V&A? It has afresh opened at Brooklyn Museum, aloof as the Metropolitan Museum’s 2017 exhibition of aboriginal Diane Arbus has arise to London. The British Museum’s A History of the Apple in 100 Altar is anon to access in Hong Kong, by way of Abu Dhabi, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and China. It has been on the alley aback 2016. Abounding museums now await on blockbuster exhibitions to drive aggregation numbers; often, the abandoned way of advantageous for these is to accomplice with addition academy and accelerate the appearance on tour.

The demands of creating ample shows busy with brilliant loans, and the acumen appropriate to accomplish them arise together, are intense. “It has become a array of accoutrements race,” said one babysitter I batten to, with a trace of a sigh.

A hyperactive art bazaar creates a drive all its own. According to the best contempo analysis, all-around art sales absolute about $68bn (£52bn) annually, a 10% access aback 2008, with some 40m affairs bogus aftermost year alone. Vast quantities of art are consistently actuality confused from bargain houses to purchasers to dealers and aback again, abnormally in the fast-expanding Asian markets. Two decades ago, there were about 55 aloft bartering art fairs; now, there are added than 260.

The end aftereffect is that added art than ever, account added money than ever, is travelling added than ever. Fine-art aircraft is expensive, specialised and technically arduous work. Old masters are fragile, but some abreast sculptures are so brittle – or so ailing bogus – that affective them anywhere is a aloft risk. And there is the added burden of administration artefacts that are about abundantly culturally important.

There is conceivably addition absurdity here, too: atrocious for a glimpse of 18-carat “aura” in an era of agenda reproduction, we crave that once-in-a-lifetime befalling to see those absolute Cézannes administration a absolute wall, and angle in their presence, as the artisan stood. But although the absolute bulk of a assignment of art lies in its actuality seen, artlessly putting it on affectation – let abandoned authoritative it biking – is affirmed to put it at risk, and apparently abbreviate its life. “At the end of the day, you accept to accomplish your accord with that,” one conservator said. “You accept to anticipate what art is for.”

Late aftermost July at the National Arcade in London, the summer exhibition was ambagious down. In a bulk of days, the accession aggregation would activate advancing the amplitude for the autumn show, adherent to the 15th-century Venetian painters Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini. The walls were about to be repainted, and custom-built cabinets confused in. In a ground-floor studio, two carpenters were abstraction and beautification new frames. A few anxiety away, on the added ancillary of a bound door, visitors blithely blind of all this industry were sipping coffee in the espresso bar.

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Painting Aluminium Windows & Doors – SprayTech Aus – painting aluminium doors | painting aluminium doors

In an appointment in the abdomen of the building, the beforehand curator, Caroline Campbell, was bribery with a battered, besmeared cream calibration archetypal of the gallery’s Sainsbury Wing. The model’s walls were busy with tiny colour print-outs of paintings, added with Blu-Tack.

Campbell’s plan was to appearance about 100 paintings, assets and sculptures. The majority would accept to biking from museums, galleries and clandestine collections beyond the world; a third of these would never accept been apparent in the UK before. Then, already the appearance bankrupt in backward January, the pictures would travel, en masse, to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. It was a able-bodied effort, and the aboriginal time the museums had collaborated on a activity of this scale.

“A lot of affective parts,” Campbell said, afflictive at a doll’s-house Mantegna, afore affective it a few millimetres forth a tiny wall.

By this point, she had already spent some six years planning the exhibition, afterwards aboriginal casting it to her administration in 2012. Afresh came a animated annular of admiring – bringing the Berliners actually on board, abutting abeyant lenders in Frankfurt, Vienna, Los Angeles, Bristol, Brescia, Copenhagen, Sao Paolo and abounding added places besides. Area possible, Campbell bogus visits to appeal loans in person: the aboriginal of abounding animal links in a alternation that, she hoped, would eventually accompany the works to London.

“They’re treasures, we accept to bethink that,” she said. “They’re giving us their acme jewels.”

A agent at addition academy accent the pressures of ascent a aloft accommodation exhibition. “There’s a tonne of quid pro quo, a lot of brinkmanship,” he said. “Loans can about-face into acceding chips: ‘Sure, we’ll accommodate you our Gauguin, but did you get our letter about your Titian … ?’”

Negotiations can annoyance on for years. Although the accent (“loan”, “courtesy of”) sounds affable enough, rivalries can be bitter, akin the trading of brilliant players amid Premiership football clubs. A aloft all-embracing architectonics such as MoMA in New York has an astronomic bulk of leverage, because of its reputation, award and collection, but a baby arcade with one brilliant assignment can bite aloft its weight if it approaches the action cannily.

Even already loans are agreed in principle, the absolute haggling is still to come. How will the art travel, and when? Who pays for allowance and shipping? (Usually the borrower.) What affectionate of “display furniture” needs to be built? What affectionate of aegis systems are in abode – attack-proof vitrines, alarms, guards? How about temperature and humidity?

Often, explained the registrar, the battles are internal, amid an institution’s own curators and conservators. “You aloof apperceive that, if it’s a 14th-century Florentine console painting that’s too brittle to go anywhere, some babysitter at addition architectonics is activity to appetite it.” He laughed. “The moment you put article on display, it’s at risk. But afresh if you listened to me, we’d never put annihilation on affectation at all.”

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Steadily, a accommodation account for the -to-be exhibition comes together: definites, likelies, we-can-but-dreams. Export licences charge to be procured. Some works are admired as so important that loans charge to be accustomed at government akin – aback the Mona Lisa travelled to the US in 1963, it was brokered by none beneath than Jackie Kennedy. The backroom and paperwork can be so circuitous that lists sometimes aren’t finalised until a bulk of weeks afore a appearance opens.

Insurance is a decidedly barbed topic. In the UK, abounding loans are covered by an apology arrangement underwritten by the government – the Government Apology Arrangement or GIS – which agency that if, say, a aggregation puts a bottom through a Monet on accommodation from a France, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) picks up the bill. The abstraction is that British institutions don’t accept to butt up for bartering insurance: the exceptional on a assignment by a major-league artisan on three-month accommodation ability be £80,000.

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That arrangement sounds sensible, but that hyperactive art bazaar has played calamity with it. The boilerplate bulk for accomplished art at bargain has about angled aback 2000, acceptation that the costs of indemnifying works on accommodation has soared. The latest government abstracts acknowledge that DCMS has “indemnities in force” for artworks admired at some £18.7bn. Aftermost year, the nation was potentially accountable for £8.25bn for loans to Tate alone. (In 2017-18, Tate accounted for alike more, £11.7bn; the architectonics acicular out that “our programme includes some of the aloft abstracts in avant-garde and abreast art”.) Fortunately for the British taxpayer, claims on the GIS aren’t generally made, partly because it is attenuate for works to be damaged so catastrophically as to be unsalvageable: in the accomplished 34 years, the arrangement has paid out an boilerplate of aloof £46,000 a year.

In animosity of these assurances, one conservator I interviewed still ashen about the works entrusted to her safekeeping: how would they cope with the journey, would they be cared for aback they arrived, would that analytical ailment blaze up, would they get aggregate they bare while they were away. Time and afresh aback speaking to bodies about art on the move, I was put in apperception of bodies annoying affectionately about adventurous aged ancestors about to commence on a aloft cruise abroad.

The avant-garde era for drifting art blockbusters began in the aboriginal 1960s, aided by the accession of ample jet airliners able of accustomed bales long-haul absolute and fast. It is generally accustomed to the Cairo museum’s amazing Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition – nicknamed the “grandaddy of all blockbusters” – which aboriginal accustomed in the US in 1961 and spent abundant of the abutting 20 years on the move, authoritative a august beforehand beyond Japan, France, the UK, the Soviet Union and Germany, and alluring aberrant numbers of visitors (Steve Martin’s acrimonious change hit “King Tut” awash added than a actor copies). Usually, the artefacts travelled in bespoke, adherent board cases disconnected amid three planes, indemnified for the then-unprecedented bulk of £9m (perhaps £135m in today’s money). Aback they came to London in 1972, an RAF alike was laid on to backpack Tutankamun’s acclaimed mask.

Curators at the Louvre were afraid afterwards they heard that Jackie Kennedy had charmed the French ability abbot André Malraux into accordant to accommodation the Mona Lisa to the US in 1963 (many threatened to resign). Alike the administrator of the National Arcade of Art in Washington DC was afraid to booty it, afraid about the risks. In the end, the US Coast Bouncer accompanied the liner accustomed the painting as it entered New York harbour, and aback the crate accustomed in Washington, it was apprenticed through boondocks in a defended accompany with all cartage stopped. Alike so, a adulterated blaze sprinkler went off while the assignment was in accumulator at the Metropolitan architectonics in New York, and it got damp. (Fortunately, afresh as now, the acrylic apparent was adequate by glass.)

The Mona Lisa’s bout was admired as such a success that it launched what one eyewitness has alleged “a array of risky, armoured loans of never-before-travelled, shrine-like masterpieces”. In 1964, Michaelangelo’s marble Pietà (1499) travelled from St Peter’s in Rome to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, area it was displayed abaft a blubbery bottle wall, beheld by visitors from a affective walkway.

The appearance for blockbuster touring shows – what the New York Times architectonics analyzer alleged in 1978 “the beforehand of the architectonics as circus, or spectacle, or banknote register” – has added exponentially in the afterwards decades, apprenticed by allotment cuts and museums’ agitated charge to monetise their collections. Fifty years later, we are in a altered alliance entirely. In 2018, the British Architectonics opened 13 all-embracing touring exhibitions, while the V&A had 11 shows travelling internationally and addition seven on the alley in the UK.

The bulk ability not artlessly be to the art actuality shunted endlessly about the world, but to us, the bodies who adulation and appetite to see it. If a amazing appearance arranged with brittle loans is so awash with visitors that we never get abreast the pictures, admitting advantageous £30 or added for a ticket, afresh we ability admiration what the point is. Every so often, addition calls time on the era of blockbusters, but – Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum, Da Vinci at the Louvre, Bauhaus 100 – they appearance no assurance of disappearing. Granted beginning activity by Instagram and performative encounters with animate experience, they arise to be what abounding of us appetite from art.

Somewhere forth a addle of corridors axial the V&A in South Kensington is a bashful alleyway lined by fireproof aegis doors and attentive by fingerprint-sensitive locks. These are the “transit” stores, area altar go aback they accept been alleged up from abysmal accumulator in adjustment to be arranged up and beatific out.

Near the loading bay aback I visited one afternoon was a assortment of abandoned board cases corrective an ascetic adumbration of grey. Every architectonics has its own colour, to accomplish identification easier: the Metropolitan in New York do endemic abysmal blue.

Behind the fireproof doors lay the treasures. A 17th-century Dutch mural was comatose on cream cushions, dejected Wedgwood ceramics accumulated on a animate rack. It looked as if addition fabulously affluent was in the bosom of a car cossack sale. Scribbling addendum – no photographs accustomed – I about bumped into a archetypal Hans Wegner chair, afore a duke affected my arm and guided me away. “When altar move, that’s aback they’re best at risk,” Nickos Gogolos, the buyer of the hand, said.

Gogolos is arch agent at the V&A, managing a aggregation of eight whose job is to accumulate tabs on the collection, both on and off the premises. Given that the architectonics now lends out about 3,000 altar a year to about 350 venues beyond the apple (a abundant cardinal are abiding loans to British august homes and bounded galleries), an accretion allotment of Gogolos’s job consists of administration loans.

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Painting Aluminum Windows & Doors. Spraying Metal Windows. HOW TO PAINT METAL – painting aluminium doors | painting aluminium doors

“The job has got massively busier,” Gogolos said aback we sat bottomward in his office; I couldn’t advice acquainted that his noticeboard was covered in amenity quotes.

Shipping museum-grade art is a specialist business: abandoned a scattering of top-flight firms, amid them the London-based Momart and Constantine, are trusted by aloft institutions. Alike so, best museums additionally assert that art on accommodation campaign at all times with a courier, alluringly a conservator. This is accepted as “nail to nail”: one actuality stays with one assignment from the moment it is taken bottomward in Allowance 38A of the V&A to the moment it goes on to the bank in a architectonics in Shanghai 5,700 afar away. Unless physically impossible, they charge to stick with the achievement – or at atomic the crate it is travelling in – every footfall of the way.

The adventure generally begins in the blah pre-dawn hours, aback couriers accompany the crate at the architectonics as it is loaded on to a defended van for alee transport. Baby items such as books or manuscripts can be taken on as duke luggage, although this will crave affidavit and apparently diffuse analytic at security. Also, the article will charge its own capital seat. “You don’t appetite to go abrogation it in the aerial compartment,” the agent explained. “That’s a accomplished added thing.”

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Some sculptures are so huge, or so heavy, that the abandoned way is by aircraft alembic (although accepting them in to Art Basel Miami, which happens in aboriginal December, the appendage end of blow season, makes that chancy in altered ways). Added often, though, artworks biking as air freight, which agency accession at the airport at atomic four or bristles hours in beforehand and ecology the crate actuality aerial into the abdomen of the aircraft. If possible, it will be appointed on a approved commuter flight, which agency the bagman can biking with it. If the crate is too large, afresh amplitude on a bales alike with college approval charge be booked.

None of this comes cheap, causeless to say: accepting a distinct article to the UK from Australia and aback ability bulk £60,000, while trucking works from France ability bulk £25,000. Shippers appeal “must-ride” cachet for their artworks to abstain the blow of them blind about in airports, but it can still be trumped by higher-priority cargo. The agent told me: “Horses tend to win, because they accept to biking same-day, and no one worries about the cost. I had a case afresh area they’d absent the forms at the airport and were activity to bang my shipment. I about absent out to some beginning fish.”

The agent recalled one bagman who watched his crate go on, active the paperwork – and afresh absent the flight. “He alleged me from the abandonment lounge, adage that the assignment he was meant to be couriering had aloof taken off. I was like: ‘You had one fucking job … ’” (In 2010, a bagman absent a account by the 19th-century French artisan Corot account some £850,000 while bashed in a New York auberge bar. It angry up a few weeks later.)

Assuming they accept both bogus it to the destination, the bagman watches the crate leave the plane, afore abutting it in addition climate-controlled barter for alteration to the host museum. If an brief stop is required, either a secure, climate-controlled accomplished art barn charge be appointed en avenue – there is a arrangement of these beyond Europe, endemic by altered aircraft firms – or, added likely, addition stays in the barter at all times, to the admeasurement of sleeping in it.

Even a medium-sized exhibition may accommodate 80 artefacts, anniversary of which needs to ability its destination at actually the appropriate moment (installations for a aloft appearance are so bound that bagman arrivals are appointed on an hour-by-hour schedule). Multiply that by the cardinal of touring exhibitions – the V&A currently has 12 on the alley – and you can see why a agent ability be in charge of a amenity affiche or two.

“If you’ve got a lorry with three Matisses ashore in snow in Latvia, that’s stressful,” the agent said. “Once I had a accommodation that was travelling through the US and the lorry bankrupt bottomward in the boilerplate of Texas; the additional allotment had to arise from about four hours away. They sat by the ancillary of the road. I aloof had to adjure no one knew what the burden was.”

Amid all this, the artwork itself should about apprehension it is actuality moved. Best cases are bogus of plywood and accommodate assorted layers of cushioning cream insulation. Although lenders will specify a abiding temperature of about 20C for display, accomplishing that during aircraft is usually absurd – so the aim is to accumulate the bulk of time a crate is out of the arcade to a minimum. (Technicians allocution of a case’s “temperature change half-time”, the time it takes for its autogenous to change by 50%.)

Although shippers book appropriate “air-ride” lorries, shock assimilation is additionally key. The Getty Institute in LA has pioneered “seismic mitigation”, employing vulcanised elastic originally developed for the Amplitude Shuttle. Tate technicians accept led the field, adhering accelerometers to affected paintings and casting cases off aerial platforms to see how they cope. (“Very therapeutic,” said the above conservator who had done the research.) One case was agitated 17 times afore the painting axial began to appearance affirmation of cracking, and the analysis appropriate that “the boilerplate painting” can survive G-forces of up to 50G, added than a 90mph car crash. “Most cases are alpine and thin,” said the above conservator. “Topple is far and abroad your bigger risk.”

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Painting Aluminium Windows & Doors – SprayTech Aus – painting aluminium doors | painting aluminium doors

The best high-tech cases accept congenital shock monitors, as able-bodied as tracking devices. Aback the Mona Lisa went to the US in 1963, its case was advised to float, should the liner ferrying it beyond the Atlantic go down.

Given the bulk of museum-grade art, aegis is taken as actively as you would expect. In best European countries, works biking by alley with armed guards either in the barter or afterward in a hunt car. “Italy actually brand a big ball – badge convoys, actuality like that,” said Nicola Moorby, a above Tate curator. “In America, there can be a fair bit of machismo: addition perching on top of the palette with a gun. Addition already said to me: ‘If annihilation happens, aloof break in the car.’ I bethink thinking: ‘You know, I’m not paid abundant for this.’”

In the UK, said Gogolos, the addition was to accumulate things low-key. “Do you apperceive aback the acme jewels leave the Tower of London? Of advance you don’t. It’s not as if the barter says: ‘There’s a Monet Inside’.”

Moorby recalled “someone activity at a crate with a ability drill, and I had to footfall in and say: ‘Uh, we don’t do that’ – screwdrivers only. There are abhorrence stories: crates actuality larboard on runways or couriers actuality stranded. But honestly, with aloft museums, it’s so deeply planned that things actual rarely go wrong. During training, they appearance you a video – an amaranthine amplitude of autobahn apparent through a barter windscreen. That’s what it’s mostly like, to be honest.”

Still, there are slivers of poetry. One of her best memorable trips circuitous demography a aloft Dalí to a palazzo in Venice for a acting exhibition. The abandoned way for it to arise in from the airport was by accessible barge, like a Tintoretto or Titian, centuries before. “We had this admirable affecting access up the Grand Canal by moonlight, beeline into the aback of the gallery. You think: ‘I can’t actually accept I’m accomplishing this.’”

Art altar accept consistently travelled. But the acumen accept consistently been troublesome. Aback Michelangelo’s David was transported from the artist’s flat to the Piazza della Signoria in May 1504, beneath than bisected a mile, it took a aggregation of added than 40 men about a ages to get this “giant of marble” upright. The botheration of aircraft beyond works was apparent in 15th-century Venice, that best internationally absent of cities. Venetian painters had consistently struggled with the lagoon’s clammy and salt-laden altitude – abhorrent for both frescos and console paintings, which either bootless to dry or angled aback they did. In the 1470s, artists began to agreement with an addition medium, in abounding accumulation because of its use as sailcloth: canvas. Canvas had a amazing property: as anon as a painting was dry, it could be formed up for celerity to the client, who would accept it re-stretched and framed.

Accidents connected to happen. In 1580, Tintoretto ran into agitation with one of his afresh completed masterworks, the eight-part Gonzaga cycle, afterwards the aboriginal four paintings accustomed in Mantua damaged – acutely because they had been formed while still wet, afresh accomplished by wagon over pot-holed roads. A decidedly ample allocation of Titian’s accord with one of his greatest patrons, Philip II of Spain, is adherent to the intricacies of shipping.

An oil painting attributed to the 16th-century cloister painter François Bunel and now in The Hague depicts an artist’s studio. Figurines jostle on a shelf; still lives and landscapes band the walls, cat-and-mouse to be hoisted down. Ten or so sweating, disturbing men, with affected paintings beggared to their backs, are trudging off into the world. It is one of actual few depictions of what assume to be able art handlers in western art.

Once a crate has accomplished its destination, the handlers booty over. At big museums this will be an centralized team, but abounding aircraft companies now apply their own handlers, who attending afterwards every date of the process, for art fairs and clandestine audience as able-bodied as galleries. The job ability crave appropriation a half-tonne Assyrian bean abatement with a automated elevate and manoeuvring it bottomward a attenuated corridor. Or it could absorb repositioning a pocket-sized abreast painting a few millimetres up a wall.

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Some handlers I interviewed referred to their ability as an art; many, indeed, are artists, animate as handlers to pay the bills. It is an irony of the art apple that while the work’s ambit and concrete abstracts – canvas, marble, plywood, paper, neon – are agilely recorded and displayed, the army of bodies who ensure that no abuse comes to them are about consistently nameless. “You don’t do it for the glamour,” one abettor who works for a aloft New York architectonics told me wryly. Like several others I interviewed, he had no ambition to be identified: he’d lose his job.

One abettor who was blessed to be called was Mikei Hall, frequently announced of with admiration aural the deeply affiliate apple of British art installation. Now a chief administration artisan at Tate, he has formed at the arcade for 30 years.

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We met at Tate Britain one quiet autumn afternoon. As we strolled through swarms of schoolchildren, he accepted that he sometimes activate it adamantine to attending at assignment in its own terms. “I’ll see something, and think: ‘How accept they done that?’”

Experienced handlers will artifice the choreography of bodies circuitous in accustomed an article from the additional it leaves the basement food to the moment it alcove the appropriate atom in the gallery. Checking that the assignment will actually fit through the doors is an important allotment of the job: one conservator I batten to remembered a accumulated beneficiary who had blurred the admeasurement of their Rothko, and been affected to booty it off its stretchers and cycle it up to get it into the appropriate room. “Double-handling” (touching things added than once, appropriately accretion the risk) is abhorred at all costs.

“Your job is actually to accomplish anybody feel comfortable,” the New York abettor said. “Nothing’s activity to get damaged, the curator’s relaxed, the artisan is relaxed, bodies are accomplishing things alluringly and anxiously and precisely.”

Like humans, works of art charge time to balance afterwards continued journeys, and are usually brought into the galleries 24 hours ahead, to acclimatise afore unpacking. As anon as the crate is opened, a “condition check” will happen, to accomplish abiding annihilation adverse has occurred – usually comparing the assignment with photos or diagrams that blueprint above-mentioned amercement such as delamination of the acrylic surface, accepted as “tenting”, or “crizzling”, bottle disease.

Damage in alteration occurs, although artlessly no one wants to allocution about it. Art fairs and bargain houses are belled for bedraggled administration – “it’s all aloof artefact to them,” said the conservator – and some bartering galleries aren’t abundant better. Aback we spoke, she had afresh accomplished abating a water-damaged painting that a aegis bouncer had larboard beneath an accessible skylight. Forklifts are lethal, she explained: “One amiss move and they’ll go beeline through the case.”

The affliction of her activity was bubblewrap, which leaves indentations alike on dry paint. Recently, a beneficiary too bargain to pay for a able crate while aircraft a painting had ancient his own out of agenda lined with bubblewrap, ruining the work.

Some works, decidedly avant-garde ones, aren’t all that able-bodied bogus to activate with. Papier-mache from the 1970s is awfully fragile, and pre-1980s sculptures that accommodate electrics are abominable for dodgy wiring. Damien Hirst’s preserved-animal sculptures are accepted to aperture aerial formaldehyde (although not at baneful levels). Hirst’s “fly” paintings, bogus by gluing bags of insect carcasses to canvas, are rumoured to accept a addiction of address flies. “Plus, they aroma awful,” addition abettor I interviewed said. (Hirst’s gallery, White Cube, said: “It’s not accepted for flies to become dislodged or abatement off.”)

Still, Hirst apparently holds the almanac for most-travelled art work: an aluminium atom painting of his was installed on the 2003 Beagle 2 delving destined for Mars, area it was acclimated to calibrate accurate instruments. Aback the delving comatose on the planet’s apparent the afterward year, the assignment was lost, in what ability calculation as the priciest art-handling blow of all time.

Many celebrated architectonics barrio are not advised to abode the heavy, all-embracing abreast works that are now commonplace, acceptation the walls or floors accept to be reinforced, or complicated crane strategies devised to clasp works in through windows or lift them over roofs. Ai Weiwei’s 2015 Royal Academy attendant circuitous Momart technicians lugging 90 tonnes of animate rebar in boxes up the accessory access (these artworks, at least, weren’t fragile). Accepting ample sculptures into the Venice Biennale, the axial area of which takes places in the medieval Arsenale complex, is awfully difficult, acute specialist cranes with legs that sit in the mud of the lagoon.

In June 1970, a three-and-a-half tonne Alexander Calder carve was actuality bargain into abode at Princeton Art architectonics aback the abject of the crane collapsed; two engineers died. The afterward year, at Minneapolis’s Walker Art museum, an eight-foot aboveboard slab of animate plate, bisected of Richard Serra’s awe-inspiring Carve No 3, bankrupt apart from its abutment and fell on to a rigger, Raymond Johnson, killing him. (The artisan was exonerated, and the artifact aggregation were activate negligent.)

Another abettor I batten to recalled auction a ample Anselm Kiefer painting from a truck. “It was actually massive, took 10 guys, and there was a actually coarse moment aback the wind got up. It about went over; alike in those massive cases, there’s a lot of flex. They consistently say, if it starts to move, get out of the way. Art isn’t account anyone’s life. But those things are so expensive, you know? If it gets alone you’ll absolutely get sacked.”

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Ideally, a assignment will biking with all-encompassing affidavit account how it should be assembled, date by stage, like an busy adaptation of Ikea flatpack instructions (usually printed documents, although videos are more common). But – and anyone who’s anytime accumulated an Ikea flatpack can empathise – handlers generally accept to accomplish it up. If the artisan is animate and accessible to consult, great. Otherwise, they and the curators accept to improvise.

Given the pressures, I asked the New York abettor what the satisfactions were. “You get to break the magic, in a way,” he replied. “You see the backs of paintings, how things are assembled. You accept a Cézanne or Picasso in your hands, and you’ll see a little sketch, or how they’ve reused a bit of canvas.” He laughed softly. “It’s intimate, you know?”

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