Monday, December 8, 2003

Vatican exhibit a special delivery



By Marilyn Bauer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Moving a show as monumental as Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes could be considered a divine challenge.

When the show closed in Fort Lauderdale in late November, the second city on its four-city, 18-month tour, organizers had roughly four weeks to pack up and move the show to the next stop. Last week, the 350 artworks and historically significant objects arrived at Cincinnati Museum Center. On Monday, staff began unpacking sets and scenery.

"We have so much stuff, and we do it in a relatively short amount of time," says Jeffrey Wyatt, vice president of production for Clear Channel Exhibitions, producers of the show.

"There are the art, objects, environments and videos to move in under 28 days. That's very fast for this type of thing, but we want to maximize the amount of time we can be open to the public with only four cities."

Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes opens Dec. 20 at the Museum Center. One of the most ambitious exhibitions to be mounted in the Queen City, it covers more than 2,000 years of Western civilization. It is the largest exhibition of Vatican art to be shown in North America. It premiered in Houston in March and will move on to San Diego when its Cincinnati run ends April 18.

A road show of this magnitude takes a bit of doing.

The artworks and artifacts are moved in 24 special trailers that are climate-controlled and very secure. They move directly from one location to another, carrying two drivers and stopping only for fuel. It takes eight to 10 days to pack up the exhibition, which is done by specially appointed couriers from the Holy See in Rome.

"The couriers from the Vatican work with specially trained art handlers who know the proper techniques for packing and moving fine art," Wyatt says. "The precious items are packed in custom crates made in Italy, placed in foam and covered by paper. It takes 95 crates to move 350 objects."

The crates have Styrofoam shelves with cutouts for the shape of the item or items to be packed inside - standard operating procedure for fine art transit. The transport is organized by Wyatt along with production manager Gail Wood, who also keeps the inventory.

The majority of the objects come directly from Fort Lauderdale, but because drawings by Michelangelo are switched at each location for preservation reasons, four pieces come from the artist's estate, Casa Buonarroti, in Florence, Italy.

In Fort Lauderdale, the couriers, called Guards of the Sistine Chapel, examined the condition of each piece before crating them. When everything was boxed up, the crates were moved out of the building and put on the trucks together.

At the Vatican, the guards are responsible for opening and closing the Sistine Chapel every day, Wyatt says. "They are responsible for the objects there and the pope's liturgical items and objects of the Mass. They are responsible for his wardrobe and pack him up when he travels."

Time and effort

Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes is the largest exhibition produced by Clear Channel Exhibitions. It requires:

• 28 days from close to start to open the exhibition in Cincinnati.

• 2 guards of the Sistine Chapel (Vatican couriers) to pack the show.

• 8 to 10 days to pack.

• 95 custom-made crates.

• 24 trailer/trucks.

• 48 drivers.

• A crew of 40 people working two shifts to install the show.

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E-mail mbauer@enquirer.com




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