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Art on Tour: Where is the John Sloan Painting?

Have you missed John Sloan’s painting Red Kimono on the Roof?  If you have, you are not alone.  The painting has not been on display for almost a year. Works come and go from gallery walls for a variety of reasons, but often they are on loan to another museum for an exhibition.

The story of the departure of the John Sloan began in July 2006 when the IMA director received a letter from another institution requesting the loan of Red Kimono on the Roof for an exhibition on Sloan’s New York paintings.  The exhibit was scheduled to be shown at four museums from October 2007 through December 2008.  The letter was passed on to me,  the American art curator, and the museum’s registration department setting in motion a carefully documented chain of events that would lead to the departure of the painting. The IMA requires at least six months notice to process the loan of a work of art from its collection.
I assessed the loan request to decide if the exhibition would be appropriate for the loan of this important painting and decided that the exhibition was a significant overview of the artist’s work and both the painting and the IMA would benefit from the loan.  The conservation department examined the painting to assess its condition to travel and the registration department requested facilities reports from each of the institutions that will be presenting the exhibition.  There are numerous criteria that have to be met for the IMA to agree to lend to any institution, including appropriate fire protection standards, proper security guards, access to conservation staff in case of damage, no construction or renovation that might pose a risk to the work, proper humidity and temperature control and no food in the gallery space to name just a few of the things we consider before lending to another institution.  Even crate storage is taken into consideration to make sure the crate is properly stored to avoid damage or contamination.  Little critters in the crate pose a threat to any work of art.  The crate is carefully constructed by the IMA to withstand the rigors of travel and protect the work of art, so we want to be sure it remains in the same condition it was created.

Red Kimono on the Roof was deemed safe for travel. Sometimes the IMA requires a courier to travel with a work of art, especially if it is going abroad or if there are concerns about potential damage to a fragile piece.  Curators, conservators and registrars can be couriers as can their assistants if trained for the purpose.  The courier must be present during all phases of transportation and to oversee the hanging of the work in the exhibition space.  When the exhibition closes, the courier often returns to manage the process of taking the work down, assess its condition and accompany it back to the IMA.  If a courier is not required for the entire travel route, one can still be sent to the destination site to assess the work when it arrives. Before a work can go out on loan, the loan must be assessed by the museum’s Collection Committee and approved by its Board of Directors.

So, come and visit John Sloan’s Red Kimono on the Roof when it returns to its permanent place in the American galleries.  There is always a renewed appreciation for a work that has gone out on loan, along with the satisfaction that people who have not visited the IMA have had the opportunity to enjoy it.

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