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Art on the road

May 27, 2022


Marci Driggers, Head of Registration and Collections

Part of  these categories:: Collection

When you’re packing to go on vacation, how do you plan? When art travels to another museum, I do the planning and packing. They are a finicky group!

As the head of registration and collections here at the Carter, my job is to know where any work of art is at any given time, what condition it is in, and to make sure that when it goes on the road, it gets there safely. That’s the short version.

No one art museum has everything in its collection, so a huge part of making sure that we share our art with the world is to lend to other institutions. All they have to do is ask, and we will try our best to say yes to a loan of artwork.

Once we have agreed to lend, my job begins in earnest. We need to make sure that the artwork is in good enough shape to withstand travel, then we have a crate built to protect it during transit. Typically, the crates are built to very specific standards that will protect the artwork from vibrations, exterior humidity and temperature changes, and overall handling. There are companies that specialize in art handling, crating, and shipping, so a close relationship with them is key, like finding the perfect travel agent.

Four wooden crates in a gallery wait to be unpacked.

Crates waiting to be unpacked.

Once the work is crated and ready, the art truck shows up at the Carter. And this is not just any old truck. They are climate controlled, have air-ride suspension (meaning less bumps along the way), and often have room for . . . me! I have ridden in trucks that are like tiny RVs. They have kitchens, a bed, a dog, a cat . . . these drivers essentially live on the road, so their truck is their house on wheels that they are letting me ride in. I am there to make sure that the crate is handled safely and, should we have any mishaps, to make minute-to-minute decisions and act as a representative of our Museum.

Two people unpack an artwork from a wooden crate.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Cannas being removed from its crate on a 2015 trip to Grenoble, France.

Once we arrive at our destination, I watch the crate go into the borrowing museum’s storage area and then I drag myself to the hotel. It is standard to allow the crate to acclimate to its new environment, so it stays put for 24 hours minimum before we open it – like me, it needs time to adjust to the jet lag! Once that time has passed, I come back and watch as the crate is opened, perform a condition check (fancy speak for looking at every nook and cranny to make sure nothing has been damaged), and watch as the work is installed in the gallery.

Most of our domestic travel is in trucks, so sometimes it’s not the most glamorous way to get to New York or San Francisco! If we lend outside the country, then it becomes a lot more exciting. Planes, trains, ferries, and again, trucks might all be part of the plan. When a crate is particularly large, it won’t fit on a regular passenger plane, so it might go on a cargo plane. That is always fun because it is a very relaxed crew; you may be the only passenger, and sometimes they let you sit in the cockpit for takeoff or landing!

So back to vacation: Where are you going? San Antonio, maybe? We are lending some Remingtons and Russells to the Briscoe Western Art Museum for their exhibition The Sons of Charlie Russell: 55 Years of the Cowboy Artists of America (May 27–September 5, 2022). If your travels are taking you a bit farther, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has borrowed one of our Homers, Crossing the Pasture, for their show Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents (April 11–July 31, 2022). If you go to one of these places, you can brag and say you get to see them any time you like at the Carter! Well . . . except when they’re on the road.