Thursday 18 August 2011

Disaster preparedness

First up, the director of the American National Gallery is called Earl “Rusty” Powell III. I want more New Zealand directors to have diminutives - even better, I would like them to have wrestler names, like 'Mad Dog' and 'The Axe'.

Secondly, and more on topic - an interesting article about National Gallery curator Andrew Robison, who is the guardian of seven black, cloth-lined boxes that constitute the gallery's 'in case of World War III' collection of works on paper:

In 1979, with Washington worried about 52 hostages in Tehran and terrorist threats at home, Robison’s boss asked him to create a big container for works of the highest value. If catastrophe hit, the container could be spirited away to an undisclosed location. Today, Robison has seven boxes in two separate storerooms — four for European holdings, three for American. These do not include the museum’s 10,000 photographs, 3,800 paintings and 2,900 sculptures, outside of Robison’s purview and mostly too big for any mad dash out the building. And because his works are so fragile and light-sensitive, they live most of their lives in protective storage, going on the walls for viewing only in short spurts.

The fact I found most interesting:

During Robison’s 38-year tenure, the works-on-paper collection more than doubled, from 50,000 to 106,000, and routinely his team found additions that pushed out other masterworks. In fact, only 27 percent of what Robison first put in the boxes in 1979 is still inside them.

The article is a little sneering about curators ("Robison is neither a rogue nor a prig, the two usual poles of cultural debate") but still an interesting peek behind the scenes. I wonder what's on our disaster boxes?

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