Text contribution from the book Re-reading the Manual of Travelling Exhibitions.
MW: What is the main difference between a travelling exhibition from the time of the Manual and a travelling exhibition today?
TK: Today, the motivation behind travelling exhibitions is completely different to then. In the 1950s and 60s, travelling internationally was expensive and only affordable for a small section of the population. For this reason, touring exhibitions were important because they allowed artworks to be taken to the public, and in doing so delivered cultural ideas. American exhibitions of abstract expressionism, for example, conveyed a new world view — that of a free America. This world view was also exported to postwar Germany, where there was a shortage of contemporary artistic positions, as many of them had been declared degenerate and banned during the Nazi dictatorship. From the 50s onwards, these previously banned works could finally be shown in Germany.
Nowadays, the main reason for travelling exhibitions is a financial one. Exhibitions have become so expensive that individual institutions are often unable to finance them alone. With a jointly conceived travelling exhibition, costs for restoration and organisation can be shared. This includes curatorial research visits and the developing of the exhibition concept, which is incorporated as intellectual property into the shared expenses. The costs for the transport crates can also be split. Popular exhibitions represent a good source of income for the institutions involved, which makes participating in a touring show or borrowing individual works — that can be shown in combination with one’s own collection — an interesting prospect.
MW: Has the visiting public changed?
TK: There’s a crucial difference between then and now: In the postwar era, there was an idealistic attempt to make cultural goods available in countries where they weren’t accessible. Travelling exhibitions were an opportunity to provide people with access to work they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see in the original. Today, on the other hand, a wider public can travel to the location where the work is on show.
MW: So, do travelling exhibitions now have the distinct potential to bring works from many different collections together into an exhibition, that would otherwise be spread throughout institutions and collections across the world?
TK: Exactly. You devise an exhibition using content-based criteria and aim to borrow the necessary works for it to be able to tour. It can also be retrospective shows that concentrate on a specific aspect of an artist’s œuvre. In the touring exhibition Louise Bourgeois: Structures of Existence: The Cells it was the Cells — a agent abroad. The art shipping network is global, there are partner companies worldwide that are part of a large association of art forwarders. For instance, if I want to ship a work from Indonesia to Germany, the shipping company in Germany will ask their colleagues in Indonesia to examine the work there. They will go to the museum, or into the storage depot with the registrar or restorer, and then send us their opinion and a corresponding offer. The lending institution prescribes the packaging requirements: How should the work be padded? What type of container climate-controlled or standard? Is sea freight permitted? Does a courier have to accompany the piece?
In addition to this, the agent in that country will provide information about the necessary bureaucratic procedures like export procedures and customs. Countries outside the EU have many different laws and directives regarding the export of artworks. In such cases, the overseas agent is a vital contact and is responsible for filling out the appropriate forms and speaking to the relevant authorities.
MW: Who insures the artworks?
TK: Either by our own insurance, the owner ’s, or that of the other institution. We have a nail to nail insurance for artworks in our exhibitions, which means that the pieces are insured for the whole loan period until they are returned to their original place including transport, storage, and the duration of the exhibition. The type of transport is always explicitly agreed upon with the insurance company. Shipping by sea must be specifically requested and approved, as art isn’t really supposed to be transported by sea: it’s too damp and risky, there’s no 24-hour surveillance in the harbour, and the weather at sea is unpredictable. But some works are simply too big to be carried by air, and then there’s no other option than by sea.
MW: How do you assess the insurance costs of the works on loan?
TK: Generally, you accept the insurance value the owner states in the loan agreement. In some cases, however, the fluctuating art market causes problems: if a new record value is reached at auction, lenders sometimes orientate themselves to this new market price and increase the insurance value. This creates an additional uncertainty when calculating the insurance premium. In the planning phase of an exhibition you estimate the insurance premium, which consists of insurance value, materials, and shipping route. The more fragile the freight, the more expensive the insurance. Then, based on a risk analysis, further fees are specified for certain countries — for example the insurance for shipping by road through Russia is more expensive than by air from Munich to New York. The frequency of instances of damage to works within an institution also plays a role.
MW: Do you escort transits?
TK: We only accompanied the Louise Bourgeois exhibition from Munich to Moscow. Courier escort is only usually necessary with very valuable loans or on complicated routes. The responsibility you have for the loan item as a borrower should be fulfilled to the best possible level. Transporting items through the Russian winter undoubtedly had its risks, like the bad weather and the incalculability of the waiting times on the FinnishRussian border. The couriers that travel with us are an added security measure who also ensure that the whole process — including unloading on arrival — is carried out with due care. The most important thing in transporting art is that it’s done in a slow and cautious manner.
MW: Who assists you?
TK: I have a team of around 25 freelancers. They are all artists, and most have additional vocational qualifications. I have two co-workers who have helped set up three documentas and who have an extremely broad knowledge of all kinds of artworks our freelance art handlers. On top of this, we also employ freelance restorers, a full-time registrar, a projectbased assistant, and often an intern.
MW: How do you prepare for the installation of an exhibition?
TK: The basis for planning the installation starts with the artworkspecific documents, from the loan agreements and the list of works to the assembly instructions, the artwork manuals. When it comes to painting exhibitions, you don’t need to ask much regarding construction; with sculptures, on the other hand, all details are needed: weight, footprint of the pedestal, desired height of the pedestal. If there are insufficient details we will carry out research and try to find previous presentations of the work and recreate how to construct it.
MW: How was that in the case of the Louise Bourgeois exhibition?
TK: A few works had detailed manuals, but some didn’t. One lender had never even set up the work themselves. We intended to place focus on documentation when we installed the artworks in Munich, so that we could pass on the information to the subsequent locations. For this we needed someone to professionally document construction of the pieces. As such documentation was also in the interest of the estate of Louise Bourgeois, they provided us with their photographer, and in this way the manuals contributed to the completion of their archives.
MW: How do you document the condition of a work?
TK: The condition of a work is given in its condition report. It’s the document that determines whether the condition of a work has changed, and if there are scratches, tears, fingerprints, or other damage. The lending institution creates an outgoing condition report and, after unpacking the work, our restorer prepares an ingoing condition report. There is a special form for this, which includes the data and technical details of the loan item, and it is enclosed with an accompanying image of the work upon departure. Any conspicuous details will be highlighted on the image, and detailed photos of these areas included. After examining the loan item, our restorer will record any potential changes on this form. They also monitor every step at which the loan item is moved, in order to record any possible changes.
TK: The condition of a work is given in its condition report. It’s the document that determines whether the condition of a work has changed, and if there are scratches, tears, fingerprints, or other damage. The lending institution creates an outgoing condition report and, after unpacking the work, our restorer prepares an ingoing condition report. There is a special form for this, which includes the data and technical details of the
MW: How have technical innovations changed and simplified your work in the past 30 years?
TK: A huge amount of things have changed. When I started in 1984, we compiled an index card for every work in the exhibition, and added a copy of a catalogue image or a photograph of the work. At the time, these index cards were our database. Sometimes I think I’d like to go back to these old index cards, which contained all work steps and details. Digitalisation has massively sped up the whole process — today we send out loan requests by email, and receive an answer two days later. The rate and volume of these email exchanges actually necessitate more staff. And faster, more frequent communication often leads to less committed considerations, numerous alterations, and an underestimation of actual planning times.
I think it’s hard for a lot of people today to differentiate between digital means — for example 3D simulations of exhibitions — and the fact that there is a very tangible exhibition, something very real. A digital exhibition always looks well-ordered and coherent. But the reality is different. In the real world you have to deal with the diverse ways in which light falls, the shadows, the unevenness of the walls and floors, the ventilation grilles and other sitespecific factors. Working with artworks while installing an exhibition is a slow process — sometimes you need to think about it overnight before you find the right position for a piece. And even though digital exhibition models are highly sophisticated, time and again we find that the positioning doesn’t work in the reality of the exhibition space if the works are to be allowed to reveal what it is that defines them: their individual aura.