Protection on Display
While driving from Toledo, Ohio, to New York City in November of 2006, the two drivers of an art transport truck stopped for the night in Pennsylvania at a Howard Johnson Hotel. They parked the truck in an unlit parking lot adjacent to the hotel, out of sight of the hotel’s rooms and the main office.
In the morning, when the drivers returned to the truck, they found the locks on the truck broken and the painting inside, Goya’s Children with Cart, valued at $1.1 million, gone.
The authorities were notified and an extensive publicity campaign was launched to locate the painting. The Guggenheim Museum, which had planned to display the painting in its upcoming exhibition Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History, released a joint statement with the painting’s home museum, The Art Museum of Toledo.
The two museums said the painting would be “virtually impossible to sell and therefore has no value on the open market,” in an effort to prevent a clandestine sale. They also announced that the painting’s insurers were offering a reward of $50,000 for any information leading to the recovery of the painting.
The strategy worked, and the FBI received a tip which led to the recovery of the painting less than two weeks later. It was in “good condition” and appeared to “be unharmed,” the FBI said in a press release announcing the Goya’s recovery.
That tip came from Steven Lee Olson, 49, who reported that he discovered the painting in his basement. Olson was a self-employed truck driver, and was later charged with stealing the painting himself.
Olson contacted the FBI, but not for the reward money. “I really wanted to get rid of it,” he told U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh in a court proceeding. After stealing the painting with his neighbor, “they realized it was more than they could handle,” Olson’s attorney, Joe Ferrante, said to the AP.
The two men pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal the painting. Olson, who had a criminal record, was sentenced to five years in prison for his crime and his neighbor, Roman Szurko, received one year and a day.
While the painting was successfully recovered and eventually returned to Toledo where it’s displayed today, the theft brought new awareness to the security concerns associated with museum special exhibitions.
Located in the middle of America in Bentonville, Arkansas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is well aware of the challenges that come with transporting art to and from various museums.
The museum, which opened in 2011, has a collection that spans five centuries of American art ranging from the Colonial era to the current day. Its masterpieces include Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter, and Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton—to name a few.
In addition to its vast collection, the museum also hosts a wide variety of special exhibitions each year. Planning for these exhibitions starts years in advance, says Niki Ciccotelli Stewart, Crystal Bridges’ chief engagement officer.
“Right now we have an idea for our large exhibition space of what we’re doing through 2018,” she explains. “We’re green-lighted through 2017 with some yellow lights in late 2017, 2018, and 2019.”
Crystal Bridges receives a variety of proposals for special exhibitions, which are originally looked over by the curatorial and exhibitions teams to determine what value the exhibition would have for visitors, whether the content is appropriate, and whether the exhibition fits the larger arc of the stories the museum wants to tell with its programs.
“We’re telling stories about the founding of America,” Stewart says. And since Crystal Bridges is a relatively young museum, it has to consider what its visitors will want to see—such as American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, which drew thousands of visitors to see 50 original paintings and 323 Saturday Evening Post covers by the artist.
Once the curators and exhibitions team have decided that an exhibition is a good option for the museum, they start discussing the viability of the exhibition itself—the size of the art, the kind of climate it will need, and the security conditions needed to display it.
This is when Director of Security Geoff Goodrich is brought into the discussion to review the initial draft of what requirements Crystal Bridges will have to meet in order to host the exhibition. Goodrich analyzes the contract not just to see what the security requirements are, but what the impacts will be on the museum’s facility, how the exhibition will be shipped, and the security requirements necessary, such as the number of physical security officers and cameras in the gallery.
One of the most important parts of the process is determining how many security officers need to be present in the exhibition gallery based on the layout of the gallery and how the artwork will be presented. For instance, certain exhibitions make visitors want to touch the artwork. These exhibitions might merit more security officers.
“We have a folk art exhibition coming up later this year, and it’s a very touchy-feely exhibition,” Goodrich says. “It’s folk art from years past and now, so for some people it’s like going to a giant craft show. And when they go to a craft show, they get to touch everything. But this is antique stuff…and whether it’s something handmade or a quilt hanging on a wall, people want to have that sense of touching.”
This means he’ll have more staff patrolling in the gallery than he would for another exhibition coming to Crystal Bridges that features photography and video.
Additionally, Goodrich will consider what level of explanation an exhibition might require. Security staff are often the most visible museum staff, so visitors may look to them to explain portions of an exhibition.
“Knowing that early on allows me to plan my staffing, if I need to hire some additional staff members or shift people around—it gives us a plan to be able to get in on a budget process a year early,” he explains.
After Goodrich has an idea of how many security officers will need to be on staff for the exhibition, the exhibits designer and curatorial department begin planning how to display the artwork itself.
They come up with an initial plan and then sit down with Goodrich to look at the proposed layout of the exhibition to identify any issues, such as safety from the fire marshal’s standpoint. “As we all know, 90 percent of the time there’s always something,” Goodrich says.
To help mitigate this problem, Crystal Bridges has made a collaborative effort to work with the local fire department to bring in the fire marshal for regular walk-throughs throughout the planning process.
“Not just to make sure it’s up to code, but also to decide this is a smart thing to do,” Goodrich says. “Even though it does meet code, is it smart? Is this the wise way to do this?”
Sometimes this results in great advice from the fire marshal on small changes that can be made to ensure that the exhibition is displaying the art in a secure manner that also creates a safe environment for visitors.
For instance, the fire marshal may walk through the exhibition space with Goodrich and other facilities staff and recommend adding another exit to the layout. The additional exit may not be necessary for the space to be code compliant, but would provide easier access out of the exhibition space in the event of an emergency.
During this process, Goodrich also looks at the layout of the exhibition gallery to determine “pinch-point areas,” where a group of people might gather in front of one painting and create a bottleneck for people to go around.
If this is the case, and it will interrupt the traffic flow of the gallery, Goodrich can work with the exhibition team to change the layout to reduce congestion—keeping the art safe while also improving visitors’ experience.
After determining the design of the exhibition—from the wall placement to the entrance and exit—Crystal Bridges then looks at how to place security cameras throughout the gallery and how lighting will impact those cameras. The museum just upgraded the cameras in its special exhibition space so they are all digital and have infrared capabilities.
“Which means they can see in the dark so we can do lower light levels and still have excellent video quality,” Goodrich says.
At this point, the planning phase is complete and Crystal Bridges just has to wait for the exhibition itself to arrive—one of the most difficult aspects of the process.
“It’s hard to get everything here, easily, because of where we’re located,” Goodrich explains, as the museum sits in the bottom of an Ozark ravine in a relatively rural area. “So most things come to us over land.”
In the Goya theft case, the truck drivers transporting the painting parked their truck and left it unattended, overnight, in the parking lot. For many security professionals, that scenario is unimaginable if not panic-inducing.
Fortunately, not all art handlers operate that way. Instead, many require that art shipments be monitored from pick-up to drop-off without overnight stops in between. One company that provides this service in the United States and Canada is FedEx Custom Critical, a freight carrier under the FedEx umbrella.
As part of Custom Critical, FedEx has a White Glove Services Department that “handles anything that is special care,” says Carl Kiser, operations manager for the department.
The department has an internal staff that handles customer service and makes the arrangements for pick-up and delivery of art work for clients.
The drivers, however, are contracted out and must pass a background check before being hired for the department. Drivers pick up shipments, transport them to their destination, and drop them off. They do not, however, pack or unpack artwork.
As part of this contract service, clients can request certain requirements through White Glove Services, including temperature controlled trucks and single shipment on a single truck.
That “in and of itself is a security measure because there are no unnecessary stops along the route,” Kiser says. “The freight goes from the point of origin straight through to delivery, if that’s what the art customer wants.”
Drivers—who often operate in teams for art shipments—are also required to monitor the freight at all times so the truck is never left unattended. “That’s critical in making sure that nothing happens to that shipment,” Kiser says.
As an added layer of security, when a driver is contracted to pick up a shipment, the department sends the museum or client a Positive Driver Identification (PDI). The PDI contains photos of the drivers that are approved to pick up the shipment, ensuring that the driver who shows up to pick up the shipment is not an imposter.
The teams of drivers work together, trading off driving duties while one sleeps in the cab of the truck on what are typically long drives across the United States or into Canada. The department will also work with clients who want to send a courier or an escort vehicle with the shipment—a common practice in the art world.
If drivers need to stop, or there’s a delay in when a museum can unload a shipment, they have the option to use one of FedEx’s freight locations to secure the truck overnight in a gated, locked facility.
To ensure that trucks are traveling on the approved route and on schedule, the White Glove Services Department monitors the progress of trucks once a shipment is picked up by using a GPS tracking system.
“We have the system set up to send back a service failure notification if the truck is running more than 15 minutes behind the allotted schedule,” Kiser says. “And then our agents would investigate to find out what’s going on, and then notify the customers so they’re aware of the status of that load throughout the entire shipment.”
If there are no service failures en route, the department would notify the customer when the shipment arrived at its destination, had been signed for, and delivered.
However, if there is a problem, the department has Qualcomm wireless communication devices in each of its trucks, which use a satellite connection to send messages back and forth to the truck from the department’s headquarters.
“So if there is a scenario that occurs, we have tracking on that truck and we also have the ability for the contractor or driver to reach out to us to let us know that something’s taken place,” Kiser says. “Or they call us directly.
We are a 24/7 facility that can respond to a situation at any time of the day or night.”
These situations can include anything from a traffic jam to a storm that could be slowing or stopping the truck altogether. If it’s an emergency situation, such as a truck getting into an accident, the department has escalation procedures in place to alert Kiser and FedEx’s security group to respond. It can also alert the authorities if a law enforcement response is necessary.
For especially sensitive shipments, the department also offers a device, called SenseAware, that can be placed inside the shipment itself to provide tracking information directly to the client.
Once Crystal Bridges knows the arrival date for an exhibition, its exterior security team will assist with the delivery—via truck—entering its receiving area, which is designed to allow a 52-foot truck with a cab to enter and then be sealed off with a gate.
“That way we have a secure area for them to offload the art,” Goodrich says. “Once the truck is here, then we have a process in place where our receiving clerk will shut down the whole dock area.”
The clerk will send out an e-mail and a radio alert that the receiving dock area is closed, except to essential personnel who are involved in offloading the truck. Signage is posted in the museum’s elevators so staff are aware of the closure, and only approved personnel using access cards will be allowed into the receiving area.
Based on the contract with the lending institution, additional security measures might also be required once the exhibition reaches Crystal Bridges, such as having security officers present in the gallery while the artwork is being installed.
However, with the improvement of access control capabilities at museums, many lending institutions are not requiring this, Goodrich says.
“Only those people who are directly related to the exhibit can enter, and they only enter through one designated door to get into the gallery space to work,” he explains. “So that limits the need to have a physical body there.”
Goodrich also places temporary cameras in the gallery while exhibitions are being installed in case a worker is injured while installation is taking place. “If somebody gets hurt, we still have video of the activity in the space for our records,” he says.”
While installation is taking place, Stewart works with Goodrich to educate security staff about the exhibition so they can answer questions and engage with visitors. Stewart will meet with security staff on a Wednesday when Goodrich has created a standard time for different departments to come in and brief the security team on what they’re doing.
For her brief, Stewart provides security staff with a program of what exhibitions are coming up and printouts of information about the exhibition, such as what pieces of art will be included and who the artists are.
After the exhibition opens, Stewart goes back for another Wednesday briefing to discuss what security staff are seeing in the gallery—how people are moving through the gallery, what kinds of questions staff are being asked, and what behaviors they’re seeing.
For instance, when the Rockwell exhibition was at Crystal Bridges, 120,000 people came through the museum to see it. Managing the crowds became a major challenge, and security staff had to work closely with the exhibitions team to manage the flow of people to prevent overcrowding in the gallery.
Another challenge came with Crystal Bridges’ State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now exhibition, which featured 102 different artists from across the country and took over the entire footprint of the museum.
“We had art on the pond, art in the stairwells, art in the hallways, so it was very engaging and textured,” Stewart says. “Everyone wanted to touch the art, but that wasn’t allowed, so it created an operational challenge for staff.”
Crystal Bridges met this challenge by deploying more security staff to the galleries, so they could engage with visitors, answer questions, and enforce the no-touching rule.
“We really had to be ready for lots and lots of questions from visitors, and our security team was energized rather than annoyed by that,” Stewart adds.
With 35 special exhibitions under its belt and more slated for the rest of 2016, Crystal Bridges is now sending its own special exhibition to other institutions. State of the Art made its first stop at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in February and will stay there until the end of this month, when it will travel to Telfair Museums in Savannah, Georgia.
And the trucks transporting it won’t be making any unattended overnight stops along the way.