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NYT's Getty Center's Master Packer

NYT's Getty Center's Master Packer

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Published by LauraNovak
A favorite story. The mover, but not shaker, of the world's greatest art. Who said being a reporter was not fun?
A favorite story. The mover, but not shaker, of the world's greatest art. Who said being a reporter was not fun?

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Published by: LauraNovak on Feb 02, 2010
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12/8/09 1:13 PMMaster of the Science of Packing and Crating - New York TimesPage 1 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/arts/artsspecial/28getty.html?_r=1&ref=artsspecial&oref=slogin
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Calculating packing needs.
Master of the Science of Packing and Crating
Marissa Roth for The New York Times
Rita Gomez with Che Machado, left, and Zachary Harper, weighing “Still Life With Flowers and Fruit” by Monet at theGetty Center.By LAURA NOVAKPublished: March 28, 2007
Los AngelesINthe artworld, R itaGomez isa mo ver, but most certainly not ashaker.She wears blue jeans with scuffed work boots and spends her days in a windowless room with all the glamourof a warehouse, yet Ms. Gomez has bragging rights to rival any in the business. Among the highly educated scholars who make the Getty Center one of the world’s renownedart institutions, it is Ms. Gomez, with her walkie-talkieand untucked flannel shirt, who has the whole collectionin her hands.Over the last 20 years, Ms. Gomez has cradled Cleopatra’sperfume bottle and carried van Gogh’s “Irises” so many times she has lost count. She is, in museum terms, thelead preparator for packing and crating.“The great thing about this job is that we get to toucheverything — Pissarro, Renoir, Degas,” she said.“Yesterday we unpacked another drawing by van Gogh.”The sophistication of her work — as much a fine art as ascience — is a sign of how essential packers have becometo the flow of art around the world.
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12/8/09 1:13 PMMaster of the Science of Packing and Crating - New York TimesPage 2 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/arts/artsspecial/28getty.html?_r=1&ref=artsspecial&oref=slogin
“Rita’s crates are famous,” said Mikka Gee Conway, the Getty’s assistant director formuseum advancement. “I’ve seen preparers at other museums gather their staff aroundan empty Rita Gomez crate and use it as a teaching tool.”Each year from 2001 to 2005, 3,000 art objects traveled to and from the museum onloan or for restoration or exhibition. It can cost as much as $3,000 to prepare someobjects for loan, Ms. Gee Conway said; in one year alone, the overall cost for in-housepacking and crating was more than $100,000.Ms. Gomez’s goal is to allow the receiver to unpack the art by following a simple set of instructions without having to use a tool.“You never get tired of it because it is always a problem and always a challenge,” shesaid.She begins by measuring and weighing the object to be moved, working in the gallery  with her assistants, Che Machado and Cary Stehl. Then she carves precise shapes infoam to fit and protect every surface when the object is crated.Tales are whispered throughout the industry of art crates coming off conveyor belts inairports going “gadunk, gadunk, gadunk,” Ms. Gomez said, mimicking the sound of  breakage.Since arms are only human and forklifts can be faulty, she packs defensively. She doescomplex calculations to determine a crate’s drop height and takes steps to ensure that if a crate is repeatedly dropped, from a height of one foot to four feet, the art remainsunharmed.“I think when you have a more complicated project, you do wake up thinking about itand you go to bed thinking about it,” she said. “You’re modeling in your head. I’mpadding it, cutting it and so on. And then sometimes you make up your mind and justproceed.”That can mean moving beyond what Ms. Gomez calls the “goofy calculations” toapplying common sense. Her cardinal rules: never touch an object without gloves(except porcelain: leaving a fingerprint is better than dropping the item); always placepaintings face down (unless covered with glass) in case a pair of eyeglasses, a pen or aphone drop on it; pack objects upright no matter the size or shape; and consider usingnewborn-baby booties as buffers on points where foam cannot be molded.“Sometimes my analogy is that we’re art nurses or a person in a hospital, like atechnician or physical therapist,” she said. “It’s like, how do you move a person withoutinjury, making them comfortable. It’s a lot of that.”Ms. Gomez is surrounded every day by some of the art world’s wonders. One day inJanuary she packed two Hogarth paintings in the morning and unpacked severalHolbeins after lunch.But not everything must be rushed to a gallery. One day, an 18th-century black stone bust by Francis Harwood kept her company, peering out from the foam of its crate. A Constable landscape hung on a metal grate. Renoir’s “Promenade” sat next to it; itscustom crate had been retrofitted to ship a Pissarro landscape of similar size.Ms. Gomez’s team can easily spend eight hours a day for four or more weeks on a singlecrate. While she sometimes worries that she has done too much or too little cushioning,the Getty’s staff frets more about the other end of the journey.“We worry about damage when the art is coming in and out of her crates at institutions with other people and handlers,” said Arlen Heginbotham, a conservator of decorativearts and sculpture. “That is the most dangerous moment for the object.” Art packing and crating has become more standard in recent years, after an organization 
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12/8/09 1:13 PMMaster of the Science of Packing and Crating - New York TimesPage 3 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/arts/artsspecial/28getty.html?_r=1&ref=artsspecial&oref=slogin
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of professional art movers, the Packing, Art Handling and Crating Information Network, was established.The industry has changed a lot, said Mike Hascall, the owner of Artech, a fine-arttransportation and installation company in Seattle. Before, he said, “there were craftsecrets and trade secrets and people didn’t share information.” But the packinginformation group now sells manuals, he added, “and the Smithsonian has test labs, andthe museums have really set the standards for the industry of art handling.”Ms. Gomez’s work has earned her unusual respect.For several months she has been working with Mr. Heginbotham and Brian Considine,also a conservator of decorative arts and sculpture, to prepare a 17th-century Italiantable for transport to England in 2008.Several years ago, Mr. Considine recalled, he accompanied a piece packed by Ms. Gomezto Amsterdam for an exhibition.“We opened up the crate and the guy looked at me, and he said, ‘God, Rita’s amazing,’ ”Mr. Considine said. “I didn’t even know the guy knew her name. They didn’t say  beautiful crate or anything. They just said, ‘God, Rita’s amazing.’ ”
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Helen Winslow Black added this note
Fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, what I wouldn't give to be in that woman's shoes--I mean GLOVES-- for one day! Laura I love it that I think of you as a novelist and every once in awhile remember that you are a Crack Journalist for a Major National Newspaper :)
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