It’s installation season at ICA, which is maybe more fun even than exhibition season. Every day something new happens: a wall gets painted bright orange, or it disappears altogether to reveal a row of windows that was there all along, or you walk into a gallery and find six elegant cloudy mirrors reflecting the world back to you, but differently. (Isn’t that what art does—let in light in unexpected ways? Reflect the world back to you, but differently?)
Today Darcey, ICA’s assistant registrar, stopped by my desk to tell me the art delivery trucks were coming with the objects for the upstairs shows: Mineral Spirits, Ann Chu and Matthew Monahan and Erin Shirreff: Still, Flat, and Far. The crates holding Shirreff’s work were so heavy, she said, they might need two side-by-side trucks with lift gates to unload them. During the morning, while she was waiting for the trucks to arrive, Darcey was on the phone a lot saying things like: “All three of the clocks are going together,” and “The Benjamin Franklin wasn’t on the schedule till next week,” and other intriguing, unlikely sentences.
When the truck finally arrived around lunchtime, it pulled up in front of the museum in the No Stopping Any Time zone. The crew came out of the museum and got ready to carry things, and Darcey took out her clipboard and her red pencil, and I stood under a tree trying to look inconspicuous. It was a beautiful, sunny, late summer day. People walking by in suits and scrubs and miniskirts turned their heads to watch.
It takes four people to lift the first big crate onto the dollies. The crates, which are built by specialized art crate builders, are lovely, pale and sturdy with useful glyphs printed on them in red: two up arrows, a broken wine glass, an umbrella with rain falling on it. A good crate for a big piece of art can cost $4,000 or more.
Another crate comes off, even bigger than the first, and then an oddly shaped bundle the size of a shrub shrouded in bubble wrap and pink packing tape, then four long cardboard tubes that look like they might hold bazookas. What can be in all these crates and boxes and tubes? Will the art live up to the dream of what the art might be before anyone sees it?
Down the crates go from the tailgate onto the dollies, around the truck on the street side and up the curb cut, over the metal threshold into the museum with a one, two, three and lift. Then across the floor, down the ramp, and up in the elevator to the second floor. So far all the crates have fit into the elevator. Darcey is checking them off on her clipboard as they go by, but I don’t see how she knows what they are until she shows me their markings: AC for Anne Chu’s work, MM for Matthew Monahan’s, and then a number corresponding to a number on her clipboard for a particular object, and then sometimes “1 of 3” or “2 of 3” for the big objects that come in several section. When I get closer, I see that some of the crates are labeled with titles too: “Seventeen Candlesticks Black Sides,” one says. “Nine Hellish Spirits #3,” says another. Upstairs in the gallery, the crew lines the crates up in neat rows and goes down for more.
“Will they unpack them this afternoon?” I ask Darcey.
“No,” she says. “We let everything acclimatize for 24 hours before we open it.” It’s a humidity and temperature thing.
The last crate so enormous it might hold a small rhinoceros. It won’t fit in the elevator. Eight sweaty, panting men and women stand around talking about what to do. They’ll have to uncrate down here tomorrow and see if it will fit then. Darcey says she knows of museums that carry oversized pieces on top of their elevators, but it’s dangerous, and we don’t do that here.
People start to drift away. The truck guys leave to bring another load. Shannon gives the crew an hour for lunch. Darcey and one of the art deliverers go upstairs to go over the paperwork. Robert locks the front doors. The big crate sits in the sunny lobby with its cheerful red up arrows and open umbrellas. If there’s a rhinoceros in there, it’s being very quiet. Probably it’s asleep.