Two drivers. GPS tracking. Temperature sensors.
Shipping the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction
from New York to the Portland Art Museum requires a few precautions.
The museum is on highest alert for the next three months as
it exhibits Francis Bacon’s recording-breaking triptych, “Three Studies of
Lucian Freud.” The three paintings made world headlines last month when they sold
in New York for $142.4 million.
The work, bought by an anonymous collector who lives on the
West Coast, goes on view Saturday, Dec. 21 through March 30. While visitors enjoy it – keeping a
proscribed 20 inches away – round-the-clock security will keep it safe. Cameras and guards will be on duty 24 hours a day. The museum will add security
if larger-than-expected crowds show up.
Despite intense interest in the art world, only one PAM
staffer knows the owner’s identity. And Bruce Guenther, chief curator, isn’t
talking. From Portland, the piece goes into to the owner’s private collection.
The Portland Art Museum is familiar with handling
irreplaceable works. It has previously shown single works by Rembrandt, Titian
and Raphael under its “Masterworks/Portland” series.
No one has seen “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” since 1999.
Each panel has a warm, egg-yolk yellow background, and a green, textured
foreground. In each, Freud sits on a chair inside a cage or room, right leg crossed over
his left knee.
Two drivers transported the panels across the country,
ensuring the truck was always on the move and never left alone. The truck had extra
suspension and was climate controlled at 70 degrees and 45 percent humidity,
the same as the gallery it will sit in.
The paintings traveled in three separate crates, each marked
“PROTECT FROM ALL ELEMENTS.” Sensors attached to the crates would signal
excessive movement or temperature changes. GPS tracked the truck’s movement, in
case it went off course.
The truck arrived at noon Friday, and the crates were immediately
unloaded and moved into a secure space, says Donald Urquhart, who manages the
museum’s collections. Then, scrutinizers went to work. They examined every
centimeter of the paintings, photographing and noting any nicks or scratches, like
a rental car.
Just before 3 p.m. Friday, two men wheeled the first two
panels on a dolly down a ramp to the underground hallway that serves as an entrance to the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries. Guenther, who chose “dried
burgundy” for the color of the backdrop, watched the panels approach with a
dozen other museum staffers. Within minutes, the barehanded men had measured,
drilled and lifted the middle panel into place. They used a carpenter’s level
to adjust it.
The second panel was trickier. After they hung it, it sat 1/4-inch too high, so they adjusted the wall bracket and lowered it to
the correct height.
Safely installed, the yellow background glowed while Freud’s body conveyed movement and impatience.
“I’m thrilled,” Guenther said as the men finished hanging
the last panel. “This is going to be so wonderful for the city. This is a town
that loves figurative art.”
Guenther didn’t twist arms to land the Bacon triptych, he
says. He called the owner soon after the auction, Nov. 11. “This is an
interesting notion,” the owner said, according to Guenther. “Why do you think
we’d want to do that?”
“That was an open door,” Guenther said.