The role of an art technician involves using huge technical skill to make sure works of art arrive safely at their destination. The nature of being an art technician is that a lot of work takes place behind the scenes. Consequently many people are unaware that it can be an alternative way to be involved in the art world. Here I provide details about the role and his advice for those looking pursue it as a career path.
What does being an art technician mean?
Being an art technician involves safely packing, moving, unpacking, installing and de-installing art without damage to items, people or property.
When working for a Fine Art Logistics company, such as Crown Fine Art, it requires securely transporting artworks or objects on behalf of your clients – including art galleries, museums or private art collectors. This work tends to be for many different types of exhibitions and projects and is usually more varied than the alternative option working in-house for a gallery or museum.
Art technicians undertake difficult projects which clients are unable to execute themselves because they require specialist expertise. Your job is to provide the expertise, problem-solving skills and equipment which helps ensure items, often priceless, are moved seamlessly.
What’s great about the job?
Working in the art industry allows you to move objects which have extraordinary stories behind them and enables you to interact with fascinating people.
A lot of art technicians are artists themselves and view this career path as an alternative means to being involved in the art world.
However it is not imperative to have an artist’s background to thrive in this area of work. I have a different background to some of my colleagues and my enjoyment often comes from the history behind the objects I’m handling.
I studied for a master’s degree in Heritage Management before volunteering in a museum for a year. My previous job was as Head of Storage & Movement for Imperial War Museums and I was lucky enough to move historical objects such as the very piece of paper Neville Chamberlain held in his “I hold in my hand a piece of paper…” speech. Having contact with these important parts of history is a real privilege. It also makes great dinner party chat and my Dad loves telling his friends about it down the pub!
Often the projects you work on are topical and it is not unusual to watch the news and see a project you’ve recently been a part of. The job also gives you a different perspective of the city you live in; I certainly look at London in a different light now.
I love my job and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting and varied career – but prepare to work hard!
The 5 best projects David has worked on:
- Moving a 38 tonne World War II tank between museums
- Installing furniture and art at a castle in Kent
- Moving an entire Mayfair gallery
- Flying to Munich for the day to deliver a medieval book
- Wrapping a two-storey tall painting prior to a gallery refurbishment
What attributes do you need?
The industry is looking for people who are practical, pragmatic and considered. Often artwork is being moved that not only has monetary value but has strong emotional significance to the client, as well as the wider public. It is vital to fill the client with confidence.
Being able to plan effectively is central to a successful project – you can never have too much information. For bigger projects, an initial on-site inspection takes place before anything has been moved and is essential for rigorously assessing potential hazards. It has to be a detailed process because even a table leg sticking out which hasn’t been accounted for could end in one of the team tripping and damaging a painting, the table or themselves. Clients expect surroundings to be left exactly as they are found.
Appreciate you may have to deviate from the plan. Factors can change on the day and you need the ability to stay calm, level-headed and flexible. For instance, a carefully planned access route has now been blocked and an alternative strategy is needed.
The job involves a high level of technical skill. It is considered to take two years to learn and five years to master. It demands detailed knowledge of the items being moved and a deep understanding of how best to pack them to prevent damage in transit. When you arrive to install, expert use of equipment is essential and it is an art technician’s responsibility to ensure art or objects are installed with the aesthetic quality sought by the client. This role is central to the way an exhibition looks and feels.
It is important to be prepared for varied working hours because frequently art technicians will be working outside of the nine to five framework. The combination of time pressures from clients and the need to move items while galleries and museums are closed to the public means projects will frequently take place late into the night.
Mental strength is more important than physical. Successful art technicians should never be overawed by prestigious objects but treat all items with the same level of importance. There will be scenarios where you are moving an item at the end of a long shift while the client is watching and it is vital to remain focused and diligent. The client needs support because this is a complex task they are unable to perform themselves. You are the last line of defence.
If being an art technician proves appealing, the next step is to experience it yourself. Crown Fine Art is currently looking for a Trainee to join the team. If you are interested in finding out more please apply with a CV and or covering letter to Keith Abbott [email protected]