"The splendour of the Christian Orient" exhibition at the Icon Museum would never have taken place in Frankfurt, had it not been for the specialists in arts logistics. Nor would the Albrecht Dürer prints have arrived unscathed and on time at the exhibition in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or the Botticellis at the fantastic exhibition of the Italian artist’s paintings at the Frankfurt Städel Museum. Museum Director Max Hollein owes a debt of thanks to the museum logistics experts at DB Schenker - the number of visitors to the exhibition is breaking all records. But then they know how works of art should be transported to venues around the world without a scratch to mar their appearance. One of the major partners in this specialised domain is Lufthansa Cargo.
Ingo Begall was not a little nervy underneath, though he would never openly admit it. The 59 year-old may have had numerous Rembrandts, Beuys or Van Goghs to handle in the course of his job, but the third of November last year was a very special day. Ingo Begall was waiting at Frankfurt Airport fot the Lufthansa LH 431 to touch down. The Airbus A 340 from Chicago was not only carrying 215 passengers, the plane also had a very special shipment on board. Safely packaged on a pallet in the belly hold of the widebody and encased in a temperature-controlled crate was Botticelli’s masterpiece - "Judith with the head of Holofernes". On loan from the Cincinnati Art Museum in the USA, the painting was the first of ten works of art by the Italian Renaissance painter from the USA and Italy, destined for the unique Städel exhibition in Frankfurt. The remaining 70 paintings, drawings and sculptures were trucked to Frankfurt in a special transporter.
Ingo Begall made sure he arrived at the Airport on time: He had been alerted by his computer that the priceless shipment would be arriving in Frankfurt punctually. He is a member of the DB SCHENKERart team, which offers customised logistics solutions for museums, art galleries and the like for the transport of precious objets d’art. When such transports arrive at Frankfurt Airport, Ingo Begall is there to meet them.
He personally supervises whether "his shipment" comes out of the "hold intact, is off-loaded intact and lands intact on the trolly." His relief when the valuable cargo is back on the ground can easily be imagined. But he is fully satisfied only when the artefact emerges from its special packaging to be certified "undamaged" by himself and the accompanying conservator.
On board that Lufthansa Airbus from Chicago was not only the Botticelli painting. Seated in the cabin a deck above was Christopher Williams, the courier from the Art Museum in Cincinnati. In a thirty-minute film on the Botticelli exhibition, the Hesse radio station called him the painting’s bodyguard, much to Begall’s dislike. "Sounds like he was armed with a gun concealed in a shoulder holster," says Ingo Bengall. Why not "courier of the loaning museum" - a far better description, he adds. More like the "Tsar’s courier" and more akin to art.
DB Schenker has specialised in the transportation of art since 1975. The logistics company’s team of experts offer their services in Berlin, Brunswick, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich. They work in temperature-controlled, alarm-proofed warehouses on 2,500 square metres of floor space and are equipped with 26 transporters customised for transport of sensitive exhibits to protect them from vibrations. Packaging is done by 72 specially trained packers, chosen less for the size of their biceps than the sensitivity they display in handling priceless works.
"Works of art are unique in form, size and material, and require tailormade transport concepts,"emphasises Michael Korn, Deputy Chairman Schenker Deutschland AG. "Not just unique, they are irreplaceable." Be they works by Rembrandt or terracotta warriors from Xi´an, icons and church treasures from Syria or Lebanon - the objets d’art are worth millions. The spokesman for the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Axel Braun, is tight-lipped to the extreme on the value of the Botticellis in the museum’s care. Not a single detail will he disclose about the cost of insuring them, let alone betray who is insuring them. Insiders talk of a nine-figure sum - well over 100 million Euros.
While the transportation of paintings or sculptures is in itself a momentous responsibility for the museum logistics specialists, the skill required in packaging them for the journey is a veritable challenge. "Climate variations or exposure to damp could badly damage the valuable ’clientele’," observes Andrea Kersten, Manager of Museum Logistics at Schenker Deutschland AG in Frankfurt. Paintings are transported in largesize frames, cushioned for protection with insulating materials and packed in specially developed crates or temperature-controlled safes. DB SCHENKERart has the crates or safes made by arts carpenters dedicated to the task in Dusseldorf and Dresden. The safes have the same temperature conditions as those at the building where the paintings come from. On arrival, the exhibits are often kept inside their packaging for at least 24 hours to allow them acclimatise at their destination prior to their removal from the transport container.
The DB Schenker-Team relies mostly on Lufthansa Cargo for transport by air. "When it comes to customer focus, reliability and service, we know from experience that Cargo as partner is simply the best,"acknowledges Ingo Begall. Furthermore, Lufthansa has a "unique global network." For the ten works in the Botticelli exhibition in Frankfurt, Ingo Begall can already book the return trip to Chicago. The duration of an exhibition is contractually agreed with the loaning museum as well as with private owners, notes Städel spokesman Axel Braun: "They are already painfully missing their precious possessions." Moreover, the many prints on display, which are particularly light-sensitive, must return to a darkened depot on their arrival back home, he says. "They may not then be shown in public again for several years."
The Botticelli Exhibition in Frankfurt closes on 28 February. Lufthansa Cargo will then be flying one or other of the valuable exhibits back to their original home.