Registrar Meredith Sutton writes about adventures in managing the Blanton’s collection and artworks on loan around the world.
If you’ve ever visited the Blanton and discovered that one of your favorite works of art is missing from its usual spot, it could be that it’s on loan to a museum in another city, state, or even country. The Blanton has a long and active history of lending artwork from our important permanent collection to other museums, and it is one of the ways that we can share our amazing art with audiences around the world. In 2011-2012 alone, the Blanton lent 38 works of art to 29 museums, including the Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Tate Modern in London, the National Gallery of Art in Ottawa, the Montreal Museum of Art in Quebec, the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, as well as many prominent museums in Texas.
Before sending any artwork out on loan, all requests are thoroughly reviewed by the appropriate Blanton staff. For many loans, we require that a courier accompany the artwork, especially for those going to international destinations, to make sure that the artwork clears customs and is handled safely and professionally. Once a decision is made to lend, I continue with the loan process, which includes on-going communication with the borrowing museum’s registrar, the customs agent, and a ton of paperwork!
Last fall I had the wonderful opportunity to accompany a large painting by Rafael Coronel, titled Pilgrims, to a retrospective of the artist’s work at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes (Museum of the Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, the nation’s premier national museum and theatre, with famous murals by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Due to the large size of the painting, it had to be transported by cargo plane. On departure day, I rode from Austin to the Dallas airport in a fine art carrier’s truck with the crated painting, and upon arrival waited in a warehouse for three hours to observe the crate being palletized with other objects so that the pallet could be safely loaded onto the cargo plane.
When it was boarding time, I was escorted by security staff to the tarmac and climbed up a tall rolling stairway to enter the aircraft. There were only two seats for passengers, behind the cockpit and facing the back of the plane, with a heavy vinyl curtain separating the gigantic cargo hold. There were no flight attendants, so it was the Lufthansa pilot himself who offered me beverages and snacks! Upon landing in Mexico City, I was met by personnel from the museum, and taken to wait for the crate to clear customs. Several hours later, now early in the morning and still dark, we left for the museum, located in the historic district of the city, 10 blocks from the National Palace and the famous city square, the Zócalo.
The museum, completed in 1934, is an exquisite Art Deco building, but lacks a large freight elevator. It took six burly men to hand carry the Coronel crate up two flights of stairs to the gallery! My heart was racing as I watched, but they successfully and swiftly managed this daunting task. Unpacking, inspecting, and hanging the painting occurred the next day, and the professional staff did an excellent job. The entire exhibition was stunning, but the highlight for me was meeting the artist, who was thrilled to have the Blanton’s painting included in his retrospective!