Behind the Scenes at the DAM

13 Feet of Pollock—How We Installed the Large Artwork (Video)

As part of Modern Masters: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, we had the pleasure of installing a very large and impressive Jackson Pollock painting. Considered to be one of Pollock’s finest drip paintings, Convergence is eight feet tall and thirteen feet long. It also has a very minimal frame, a “strip frame,” as so many paintings from this time period do. The painting’s large size and lack of a substantial frame presented a unique set of challenges and required us to take special care in its handling and installation.

Our primary focus as an installation team is the safety of the object. We carefully plan the safest way to carry out each step of the installation process, from the uncrating to the final placement on the gallery wall. Working with us to achieve this goal were two couriers from the lending institution, The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Carolyn Padwa, a registrar, and Tom Andersen, an art preparator, worked with us every step along the way to install this special exhibition at the DAM.

This blog will detail some of the steps we had to take to get this painting safely from its crate to where it is now, hanging on a wall in the Anschutz Gallery of the Hamilton Building. Below, we’ve included a time-lapse video of the entire process.

Prior to the artworks arriving, paper templates cut to the size of each painting in the exhibition are hung on the gallery walls. This allows the team, including curator Dean Sobel and exhibition designer Ben Griswold, to fine tune the placement of each painting in the gallery. With these templates they can determine the desired hanging height and also gauge each painting’s visual relationship with the other paintings in the room. Once the templates are placed, we know exactly where each painting goes, eliminating the risk of extra and unnecessary handling.

The large crate is rolled into the room on dollies and positioned to ensure the least amount of travel time to get to the padded tables where the painting will be laid down in its travel frame.

Once the dollies are removed and the crate is resting on solid ground, the lid is removed and the painting is ready to be pulled out. Four people (two on each end) steady the painting in its travel frame as it is pulled from its outer crate. Two more people place dollies underneath so that it can be rolled safely to the tables. The dollies are removed and the travel frame is then laid carefully on the tables while the courier and curator look on.

The travel frame is wrapped in plastic and all of the seams are sealed with tape. This is one of many layers of environmental control that are built into the crating process. The crate itself, the travel frame, and the plastic barrier all work together to create a passive micro-climate-controlled environment as the painting is shipped across the country.

The painting is secured to the travel frame with multiple OZ clips. These clips are screwed into the back of the stretcher and can then be attached to the travel frame with wing nuts. Once the lid is removed, these nuts can be accessed and removed.

While the piece is still lying flat, Carolyn and her counterpart in the DAM’s registration department Sarah Cucinella-McDaniel, conduct a detailed condition report. These are carried out for each piece in the show in order to ensure no damage occurred during shipment, and also to make it possible for DAM staff to monitor its condition while it is on display here at the museum.

The painting is lifted out of its travel frame and stood up on the blankets that have been prepared on the floor as a temporary resting place. In order to perform this action safely with a painting of this size, many hands are required to support it all along its edges so that the canvas does not rack or twist under its own weight. 

Now that the back of the painting is accessible, the location of the hanging hardware is measured. As the travel frame is being put back together and moved out of the way, and as Carolyn continues her condition report, these measurements are transferred onto the template and then the wall so that the hanging hooks can be installed.

The area is cleared of all tables, blankets, etc. so that the painting can be moved to the wall. Once in position on the ground directly in front of where it will hang, the courier watches as the painting is lifted onto its hanging hooks. In order to accomplish this safely with a painting of this size eight people were required. Two people were on ladders to guide the hanging hardware into place. Two people have hands on the painting up high in order to steady and balance the top. Four people lift the piece off of the blankets from the bottom, distributing the weight evenly. During this process all handling has to take place on the thin strip of wood that is the painting’s frame. 

Everyone steps back and takes a look. The painting is level (yay!). The curator is happy, the couriers are happy, the team is happy, and I think the visitors to Modern Masters will be happy to see such an impressive and beautiful Jackson Pollock hanging on the Denver Art Museum’s walls.

Author's note: John Lupe, manager of installations in exhibition and collections services, contributed to this blog post.

Update: Some of the images referred to in this blog post have been removed following the close of Modern Masters at the Denver Art Museum. Please visit the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Collection search page to find the related artworks. This appeared on this post while the exhibition was open:

 Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956), Convergence, 1952. Oil on canvas; support: 93-1/2 x 155 in. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY. Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1956. © 2014 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

 

Kevin Hester is an installation associate in the exhibition and collection services department of the Denver Art Museum. Kevin has been at the DAM since 2001 and his favorite exhibition that has been on view here is Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective.