Tuesday afternoon of the ERC 2014 conference brought around the interesting and very current topic of touring exhibitions. Touring shows are becoming much more of a regular occurrence within the world of galleries and museums, offering institutions the chance to internationally exhibit works through shared costs and collaboration. What can go wrong? Well sometimes, quite a lot, but as Renée Pfister and Kathy Richmond explained, no obstacle is unsolvable if a registrar puts their mind to it… 

International touring – managing the unexpected.

Renée Pfister has over 20 years experience working with the cultural sector, and brought 3 case studies to the conference that highlight inevitable faults and unexpected issues that can arise when planning and implementing a touring exhibition. 
Beginning in Brazil, Renée discussed an exhibition she planned at the Oca do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, containing a variety works of all media. Initial issues began with oversized and heavy works of sculpture being requested, works that were quickly swapped out for more manageable works (or so it was thought!) In particular, the new addition of a sculpture by Richard Wentworth caused much havoc due to its fragility and long length – so long it could not be palletised at the airport and needed to be freighted from Luxembourg! Issues continued to appear in the form of custom strikes (delaying sea freight by 2 days!) and customs officers not recognising artworks with multiple components as one piece of work. With the works finally cleared and arriving at the venue, all was set for install – but not quite. The venue did not have a heavy duty goods lift, meaning that all heavy works had to be hoisted or slid up ramps!

We were then talked through a private gallery exhibition in Mexico City, based around the work of Henry Moore. One confiscated crate and a delayed sea freighter later, the exhibition was successfully installed and was so popular a second exhibition venue came on board after the show had opened! 
The final case study focussed on South Africa, with an exhibition hoping to introduce Western art to a new audience. Renée was working with individuals new to the world of touring exhibitions, having to assist with every aspect of the exhibition. Issues arose regarding loans and copyright, as the lender collated and printed a catalogue without gaining any relevant permissions – something not factored in by the private client but an obvious red flag to such an experienced museum professional who immediately made the client gain all copyright clearance. 
Each of these case studies had similar issues that arose: international customs, transport, museum buildings and stakeholder management. To solve these, or at least reduce the risk of them occurring, Renée left us with the following recommendations: 
– extend transfer periods for shipping and exhibition installs
– identify key components for your installation kit
– always carry hard copy images of the artworks held inside sealed containers
– inspect the vehicles that will be carrying your cargo and try to work with consistent project teams across a tour.
– manage your client/lender/borrower’s expectations and always keep a calm disposition!

Touring Turner

We then heard from Kathy Richmond from Tate, London, about her experience touring a Turner exhibition throughout Australia and Japan. This insightful case study offered us a sneak-peak into the world of touring a tailor-made exhibition that had never been shown at Tate, only coming together for the first time in its opening Australian venue. Kathy talked us through visualising the reality of the exhibition, working through logistical pitfalls and working effectively with third parties, all key factors in any successful international tour!

The exhibition itself consisted of over 100 works, which included oil paintings, works on paper, sketchbooks and even an original Turner paint box and palette. The show was to tour to Adelaide, Canberra, Tokyo and Kobe and was made up of 7 shipments. Talking us through the project details, we were told of the importance of having a consistent core team, which in this case was made up of a Tate registrar and project manager, and also planning installation schedules to meticulous detail – this exhibition was to travel to countries that were not only thousands of miles away, but also included courier trips up to 74 hours long!

The logistical pitfalls seemed endless – with inclement weather delaying two legs of transport (a bit of British snow vs. a category 5 typhoon!), paired with lengthy road journeys across the Australian outback and large works that needed specialist handling upon installation, glazing doors that threatened to open during transit and an exhibition space that needed special safeguarding due to its flooring – Kathy and her team seemed to take all these issues in their stride and we were shown a great example of how good planning, communication and effective team management can help overcome the majority of problems that may arise throughout a tour – unfortunately nothing could stop the snow!

So how do we anticipate the unexpected? Well, we can’t – but we can be as prepared for it as we can. Have we asked the right questions? Do we have the right equipment? Have we got a good line of communication with our international shippers? Do we fully understand our role as registrar on the project?
This insightful and captivating session offered us a brilliant insight into the world of international touring and showed us how a little bit of extra planning goes a long way! 
Many thanks to Renée and Kathy!