Planes, Cranes and Anish Kapoor: Momart’s Expert Art Handler Guy Morey Reveals the Most Complicated Jobs from Rocky Beach Installs to Frozen Blood Sculptures
Guy Morey is the Head of Technical Services at Momart, the internationally renowned art storage and shipping company and Collectrium partner. He has decades of experience transporting and installing art, working with the biggest artists, galleries, museums and collectors, and he’s trusted with engineering the details of some of the most challenging installations in the world. In a conversation with Collectrium Sr. Director Anne Dayton, Morey recounted a career’s worth of unexpected challenges and extraordinary works, as well as revealed insider tips.
Eccentric works: Moving lard, blood, and frozen flowers
“We had to move a sculpture by Janine Antoni -– it was a 600-pound square cube of lard. That was a tricky thing to move because it couldn’t get too hot or else it would melt. You wouldn’t expect an artwork to be made of lard even if you’ve been in the business for a while. We’ve also moved works by Marc Quinn. We transported a frozen head the artist cast from 9 pints of his blood. The head was packed into a specially insulated container surrounded by dry ice. Then we booked an extra seat and I sat next to the container on a flight. We’ve moved other works by Quinn, where he’s frozen flowers in silicon chilled to minus 80 degrees Celsius. It is worrisome when things could melt.”
Strange locations: Installing at low tide
“We recently installed an Antony Gormley sculpture on a rock that is exposed close to low tide located on a remote Scottish beach. The three-quarter-ton sculpture had to be moved across a beach, through a stream and then over rocks before it could be stood up and resin-fixed into holes in the rock – all before the tide returned. We looked at tide tables and found when the tide would be its lowest. We were at the beach by 6 a.m. and the sculpture was installed by about 1 p.m. It all went incredibly smoothly. There was plenty of time to get off the beach before the water came up and around the sculpture.”
Model homes: Giant works and miniature replicas
“Domestic jobs are some of the hardest moving artworks through tight spaces. However on a much larger scale we moved a huge 35-foot, three-and-a-half-ton 17th Century barge that had to be craned into Somerset House in London, through the old River Entrance from the Thames where the Embankment now is. We had to get it into the basement and then they were going to build a glass floor on top of it. It was so tight and difficult to fit it through this historic arch in the building. The only way that we could prove that the work would fit was to build a scale model.”
Adaptations: Architectural limits and expansions
“There are rare examples when a building has been changed in some way, and as a result, an artwork isn’t coming out without some sort of modification. I can remember there was one work. Somehow the building it was in had been adapted – they had put extra fire doors and an airlock on the door as a precaution, but now the door size was smaller and this thing wouldn’t actually fit out without changes to the building. A similar thing can happen outside. There are some particular heavy sculptures in central London, and since they were installed, all these new buildings have been built around. Now there’s no easy way to get a crane in, so the works have just stayed there.”
Unusual requests: An 18th-century recreation
“The most complex job we’ve done was installing an exhibition called Art on the Line in the Courtauld Galleries at Somerset House, London. We recreated the Royal Academy “salon hang” from the annual summer shows which took place from 1780 to 1836. Paintings were stacked on top of each other, tilted forward at an angle, with the highest paintings 7 meters, or 25 feet, off the ground. We had to design a handling and hanging system to install the works so that they were very close together but one painting was not actually touching the painting below it.”
Detail-oriented: Realizing artists’ technical specifications
“Working with artists like Anish Kapoor, who is so particular about how things look, is always interesting. He will go to huge lengths to make things look right. He’s changed the color of the floor, built walls to blank out windows. Some artists will spend ages moving a large block of stone, that may well weigh tons, a centimeter one way and a centimeter another way. A lot of art handlers may say, “Why is he doing that? It’s just not necessary.” But, often that little change does make a huge impact. You see the sculpture with the right lighting and the right finish to the floor, and it does look amazing. Sometimes you just wish you could take a pill that would give you amnesia if you’ve been involved in making the show and you know what all went into it.”
Tips: Best practices for smooth installations
Carefully plan. The most basic errors occur where artworks don’t fit through doorways or are too large to hang on the wall. This is often because an image’s size is listed rather than its framed dimensions. Minimize physical contact. Any touching of the artworks should be kept to a minimum. Avoid shocks and vibrations. Use professional packers and transporters. Be cautious. Stop and reconsider what you are doing when you have the slightest concern. Hang paintings from two points. If works arrive with a single wire on the back, still fix two hooks to the wall and it will not need continual readjustment.