Art handling according to the pros in Restauro

What’s the difference between good and great when it comes to art handling? For Restauro Magazine’s December 2022 issue, we asked art handlers to tell us what separates the average from the amazing in their profession and it is much more than skill alone! You can read our contribution below.

Behind the scenes of an exhibition build-up, art shippers are always met with great enthusiasm as they herald the arrival of couriers with participating artworks on loan from private collectors or other museums. Turtles are especially welcomed, as they come with the knowledge that unpacking will be easy and the museum won’t have to think about storage. Specialist art handlers are on site to open and unpack these Turtles, in a moment of reassurance and trust that is a favorite among art handlers. It signals the beginning of what is a short, intimate, and powerful relationship between those involved as the artwork is revealed, its condition checked, and finally installed to perfection. But what makes an art handler indispensable, according to art handlers?

A good art handler likes working with people and can read a room. ‘It’s crucial to know your place when working,’ says Alex Bouwmeester, art handler with HIZKIA since 2015. ‘No matter how experienced you are and how much you think you know, you need to be able to sense when your opinion matters and when you need to blend into the background. Your job is to handle an artwork by evaluating the object in front of you and putting the minds of those emotionally involved at ease with a carefully considered gameplan. It is not passing judgement on the curation of the exhibition.’

Art handling also involves creativity, patience, and thinking on your feet, but above all these unsung heroes possess the unique ability to simplify what emotion clouds for most others by stripping art down to the essentials. They are not easily intimidated by big names or a work’s place in history, for what they see is an object with material properties that will determine how it is moved, hung, or packed. It isn’t necessarily the connection with an artist that inspires an art handler to excel at their profession, but a deep respect for the piece they have the privilege of working with. ‘It’s finding the right balance between appreciating the beauty of an artwork and understanding its material needs,’ says Kjeld Slingerland, who has been an art handler for over 20 years. ‘A packing solution should be of such high quality that the receiver can see the object’s value, both emotional and monetary, and will take proper care of it.’

For this reason, the Turtle is a welcome extension of an art handler’s toolkit. Kjeld Slingerland: ‘They say you can’t rush art, but the opposite is equally disastrous. By overthinking you are making things unnecessarily complex, and you need to zoom out to remember what is truly important.’ Turtle has done just that by perfecting the essentials of transporting art, and as a result their crate is simple, trustworthy, and easy to use. ‘The Turtle is built on extensive research and development and is a pioneer in industry sustainability without being complicated.’ Alex Bouwmeester agrees: ‘I know I can trust a Turtle blindly, just like I can have confidence in a fellow art handler I have never met. Art handling isn’t a job, it’s a calling. It’s the non-verbal communication that tells me all I need to know.’

Buy this issue of Restauro magazine here


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