Visitors to the Denver Art Museum can currently see 120 different paintings by Claude Monet from all over the world. But how did they get there — like, literally get there?
To find out, I talked with Sarah Cucinella-McDaniel, chief registrar at the Denver Art Museum. She’s sort of like a travel agent for art — and for this exhibition she booked the itineraries for artworks from more than 70 lenders around the world: museums, as well as private collectors. (One of her recent days started unexpectedly, around 1:45 a.m., when one of her nine Monet shipments for the day arrived at the museum hours ahead of schedule.)
“It’s a lot,” she says. “There are many, many spreadsheets.”
The first thing Cucinella-McDaniel does in this process is to convince lenders that the museum will take good care of these treasures … because the works of Monet, an Impressionist master, are worth a lot.
This year, Meules, a painting from his “Grainstack” series, sold at an auction for more than $110 million. Sotheby’s said that was an auction record for an Impressionist work.
The Denver Art Museum wouldn’t tell us the combined value of its show, nor how much it cost to insure, citing security reasons. That’s standard, according to the American Alliance of Museums.
The museum did, however, get help from a federal program that reduces insurance costs for international exhibitions.
“We work exclusively with companies that do fine art transport,” Cucinella-McDaniel explains.
The art travels by plane and truck, with multiple drivers – all trained to “handle high-value goods” — taking turns at the wheel. The works are packed in custom crates, sometimes even double-crated, to reduce the effects of shock and vibration.
But as all travelers know, even the best-laid plans can go sideways, with canceled flights, bad weather, or on-the-road break downs.
“Scenarios like that are a nightmare — I just cringe thinking about it,” Cucinella-McDaniel says.
They might have to delay or redirect a shipment — even store it in warehouses temporarily.
All of the paintings travel with couriers. Felicitas Klein came from Germany to Denver with an 1884 Monet painting of villas in the Italian town of Bordighera. She never let the masterpiece out of her sight.
Klein is also a conservator, and once the painting is unboxed, she scans it with a magnifier as photographers look on.
“What I’m doing is comparing the outgoing condition report with now the condition of the painting after the travel,” Klein explains. “I’m comparing the losses, the cracks, if something has changed.”
That condition report is like when you rent a car and they note all the dings before you drive off. (Now just imagine that car is worth $100 million.) Villas at Bordighera fared well — a relief for everyone.
Cucinella-McDaniel says it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of this job. She says she sometimes has to remind herself: “I am in the presence of a Monet that most people haven’t even seen on a wall — and I’m looking at it under magnification. This is a pretty unique experience.”
The paintings will be on view at the Denver Art Museum until Feb. 2, 2020. After that, they’ll pack up (very carefully) and head to the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany.