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Subject: Transporting paintings by air

Transporting paintings by air

From: Tom Dixon <tom.dixon>
Date: Friday, October 27, 2000
Following is a slightly edited version of correspondence regarding
flight direction of painting during between Tom Dixon, National
Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and Stephen Hackney, Tate Gallery,
London (reproduced here with permission):

    As you would be aware, when we lend items internationally, they
    go a long way- 10,000 miles and 24 hour flights aren't unusual.
    I just returned two weeks ago from Houston Texas with our
    Trevisani painting which was in the Roman Painting show in the
    U.S.- air ride, air conditioned truck from Houston to Dallas for
    about 5 hours, then small wheeled and as far as I could tell,
    unsuspended trolley pulled by a small tractor to the aircraft
    with the crate on an aluminium tray, fly Houston to LA in about
    2 hours, then again off that plane and into another holding
    shed, then repacked on another aluminium tray and again by small
    wheeled trolley to the Qantas plane, then a straight flight from
    LA to Melbourne for about 18 hours.

    My question is regarding flight direction.  Previous advice from
    the Tate workshop on works of art in transit was to keep the
    orientation of works such that they travelled lengthwise in the
    cargo hold.  In this instance, the box was just big enough that
    there was no choice in its orientation on the aluminium tray
    pallet- it could only go on the long way.  We had asked for the
    crate to fly in the lengthwise direction and I was told this
    would be the case, but in fact it actually flew sideways- and
    there was no choice if it was to be secured to a tray-pallet.
    The alternative of having it loose would not be very attractive.

    I just can't come to grips with why, once in the air in the hold
    of a 747, there would be more vibration for the picture inside a
    double crate going sideways as opposed to lengthwise through
    space.  It also seems to me the rate determining step of the
    equation is the shaking the thing gets on the small wheeled
    trolley used to transport the pallet from the warehouse to the
    aircraft across the tarmac.  I could understand a risk of
    tipping on landing and takeoff, but we covered this by stacking
    old wood skip pallets on both sides of the crate and in fact, I
    think it would be safer going sideways as it was so well
    protected in that orientation, but the crate could conceivably
    have slipped in the long direction if a violent jarring occurred
    on takeoff or landing (though it was contained with a heavy
    cargo net).

    Do you or your Tate colleagues have any comment or advice you
    can lend on the issue of flight direction of crates on long haul
    air flights?

    Tom Dixon
    Chief Conservator
    National Gallery of Victoria

Response from Stephen Hackney:

    In answer to your question, your analysis of the problem seems
    to me to be accurate. We have ceased to worry about the
    direction of flight some time ago. As you point out your flights
    are much longer in duration and so this issue is important, but
    the issue was always the shock of landing and acceleration at
    take-off. If this were a serious problem the passengers would be
    complaining more than the paintings. In general any vehicle that
    is designed for people is likely to be safe for paintings. In a
    jet fighter the accelerations in flight might be significant, in
    a 747 or airbus they are not, even on landing. So you are quite
    right not to be concerned with the direction in flight.

    Again, as you have identified, the most significant vibration
    experienced by a painting is on the ground. Trolleys and bumpy
    surfaces are a problem, even roller beds put in some vibration.
    At Frankfurt recently my load was transferred to another flight
    and had to be transported several hundred metres across tarmac
    and ribbed concrete on a shaky looking vehicle. We are lucky
    that many flights from Heathrow are direct, but just one loading
    can still involve some vibration. I am not sure that there is
    anything that a courier can do about the problem. You may have
    some suggestions--I would be interested in any. But I am
    confident that most packing cases will deal with this type of
    repeated shock. In fact on an uneventful journey this is the
    time when the case is earning its ticket.

    I hope that gives you one less thing to worry about and a new
    one to fill the gap. At least it allows you to concentrate on
    the more important issue that you have identified correctly.


                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:26
                Distributed: Wednesday, November 8, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-14-26-003
Received on Friday, 27 October, 2000

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