2.4 Works of Art in Transit

National Gallery of Art

Gary W. Carriveau
Michael Skalka
Susan Held
Ross Merrill
Period of Activity: 6/86 to 6/87

Project Abstract
The research in this program was intended to provide information used to assure that works of art are protected as well as possible during transport between institutions. Areas of study included a compilation and evaluation of previous literature on this subject, measurement of environmental conditions such as temperature, relative humidity, shock, and vibration, development of instrumentation and measuring methods, and evaluation of packing material and methods.

Major Findings
The information gained from thirty-one test shipments clearly indicates that acceptable control of the interior environments of packaged works of art is more easily achieved using hand-carried cases. For hand-carried cases, the relative humidity was controlled to within -2% for 59% of the tests and -4% for 94% of the tests. Compare this to -2% for 15% of the tests and -4% for 62% of the tests for crated shipments, which traveled in the normal mode (i.e., as cargo in the luggage section of the aircraft). The trends observed for temperature were similar to those found for relative humidity.

Primary Publications
Merrill, R. M., "In The Service of Exhibitions: The History, Problems and Potential Solutions of Cultural Materials in Transit," Preprints, American Institute for Conservation 16th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, June 1-5, 1988, pp. 138-147.

ABSTRACT-Common to international expositions and world's fairs since 1851, Block Buster exhibitions are not a new phenomenon. They have been the handmaidens to international diplomacy while harboring disguised hazards for hapless works of art. Until the last 20 years, little research has been done to uncover and reduce the risks. Further study is needed to produce packing specifications, shipping case standards, and selection criteria for works considered for loan. Research projects are under way at several institutions, including the National Gallery of Art. One study has produced an improved system for hand-carrying small panel paintings, which is described along with the results of the research project.

Merrill, R. M., "The Packing and Safe Transport of Panel Paintings," Preprints, American Institute for Conservation 16th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana, June 1-5, 1988, p. 274.

ABSTRACT-This presentation is the detailed technical information related to a General Session paper, "In the Service of Exhibitions: The History, Problems and Potential Solutions of Cultural Materials in Transit." Under a contract from the Getty Conservation Institute, the National Gallery of Art monitored temperature and relative humidity during freight and hand-carried shipments. A system for safe transporting of small panel paintings was developed and is presented in this paper along with the results of the testing. It was found that a panel painting, hand-carried, on a trans-Atlantic flight could be kept to within 1 F and 1% RH for the duration of the transit.

Caldicot, P., "Vibration and Shock in Transit-A Practical Evaluation Using Random Vibration Technique," International Conference on the Packing and Transportation of Paintings, National Gallery, Washington, D.C., September 9-11, 1991.

ABSTRACT-Museums and art galleries are under increasing pressure to loan works of art. In particular this has led to the increased movement of paintings. There is at present scant hard evidence to show how much or how little paintings are damaged by shipment. Whilst the need for care is obvious, little is known of the cost/benefit relationship for different shipping or packaging methods. As part of a larger multiclient research project to study the use of random vibration, the Getty Conservation Institute and The Tate Gallery commissioned the Pira Distribution Test House to perform a study in this area.

Secondary Publications
Financial participation in the project "Application of Random Vibration Testing to Package and Product Development," was through an agreement between the GCI, Timothy Green of the Tate Gallery, and the U.K. Technical Center for the Packaging Industry (PIRA). Membership in this multiclient project was a means to keeping involved with this kind of research at low cost. However, the utility of the results was a calculated risk.