Momart’s Miracle Squad pack a punch in art gallery logistics

Momart was established in 1972 and carries out specialist services from art packaging and transportation to installation and storage for artists and art galleries. Here Mark Harton, head of packing describes how the Miracle Squad, as they call themselves, handles its projects from huge Antony Gormley sculptures to Damien Hirst’s large-framed works

The packing and fabrication team comprises 16 full-time members, although the team is expanded to meet the requirements of increased workloads at times. The team requires a broad range of academic and practical skills – the nature of the work we carry out can vary from systemised packing procedures to coming up with a solution to complex individual packing or installation projects.

The timeline for each job the packing team undertakes tends to sit between collecting the adequate information to execute a task accurately and a shipping deadline. This can only be consistently achieved with the great support we receive from our job co-ordinators, and good in-house time management to ensure all deadlines are met.

Both site-visiting technicians and co-ordinators have a comprehensive understanding of the capacity and knowledge of the packing and fabrication team. Curators commonly have a broad understanding of packing practice – at times it may require an exchange of information to ensure that standards and method meet expectation and, of course, word gets around! We need to be constantly vigilant in respect of new materials and techniques in our search to find the right solution for our clients.

All of the Technical departments at Momart have staff that are extremely experienced in any number of packing or handling scenarios. Time spent with organisations, artists or curators is generally governed by the need for both parties to feel that the job will be executed in a satisfactory manner. Since Momart brings a great deal of experience to the table, sometimes this might simply require a short telephone conversation, but it may also require extensive site visits, planning meetings, discussions about dimensions, materials, shock exposure or shipping restrictions.

In many instances with more complex projects – for example our recent collaboration with Antony Gormley on his ambitious LAND 50 project to install a large outdoor sculpture across the UK – it’s helpful if a shipper is appointed and engaged with early in the process in order to troubleshoot any issues that may come up when packing and shipping. It’s also helpful when curators have an awareness of the sort of timeframes it takes to execute any task to a good standard as often this can be overlooked.

Good training and accurate information is the key to good packing. Training procedures within the workshop take the form of short, structured sessions aimed at knowledge-building. These are usually intimate and on a one-to-one basis. The sessions work parallel to a process of mentoring – matching staff carefully to draw experience through the team. It takes a couple of years to understand the basics of packing – it takes about five years to become a good packer. Quality control is a factor at every level of every job from shopfloor to supervision and management level – each stage of every job must be fit for purpose and as a company we are rigorous in seeking best standards, whether identifying the length of screw to fit a lid, or the most appropriate material to wrap a Picasso!

Knowing what you don’t know is often more important than knowing what you do know!

Heavy items are not easy, but generally straightforward to pack. Fragile objects are the same. When you combine heavy and fragile – that’s when we have to be especially inventive. Interestingly, some of the more challenging items to pack are contemporary works, such as Koons’ aluminium and ceramic pieces, or Hirst’s large-framed works where the detail in the finish is executed to an extremely high standard, but is vulnerable structurally or prone to surface damage.  It’s important that object assessment is objective – artworks are generally made to be robust and last. It’s easy to be influenced by, say, the value or age of an object. Many objects are old precisely because they were well made. And extra protection of an ‘expensive’ work may be a requirement of the insurance industry.

We fabricate all of our packaging in-house. This allows us to tailor packaging quite precisely to objects. We are bespoke. We’ve packed everything from bird’s eggs suspended on monofilament by Paul Fryer to six-tonne marble monoliths for Anish Kapoor’s exhibitions. Delicate miniature panels by Dutch portraitist Nicolaes Maes to forty-foot canvasses by Damien Hirst – some even larger than a shipping container. We’ve packed a single item to travel from Bloomsbury to St Pancras and several entire exhibitions from The Science Museum, Natural History Museum, V&A and The Tate to travel the globe.

However, I guess there must be a few items out there that we haven’t packed (yet).