• National Gallery of Victoria Sculpture Garden Installation 2004

    Brent Powell, Coordinator Art Handling
    National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Australia

    Geoffrey Bartlett "Messenger"

    In January 2003 the primary logistics started to be put into place for the re-installation of outdoor sculptures for the newly renovated National Gallery of Victoria Sculpture Garden. Five sculptures were to be installed in the garden and one sculpture removed from the present site before the grand reopening of the newly refurbished building on December 4th 2003.The sculptures from the NGV collection were August Rodin's "Balzac", William DeKooning's "Standing Figure", Henry Moore's "Draped Seated Woman", Fernand Leger's "LaGrande Parade", Geoffrey Bartlett's "Messenger" and Deborah Halpern's " Angel".

    Rodin "Balzac"

    This project presented several complications which required months of planning, many hours of negotiations with several parties including Baulderstone- Hornibrook (building contractors), ARUP Engineering, The Victorian Arts Center, Heritage Victoria, JK Fasham (installation contractor), Artists (Deborah Halpern and Geoffrey Bartlett) and the City of Melbourne. Discussions and negotiations involved many National Gallery of Victoria staff including the Director, Deputy Directors, Curators, and staff from Conservation, Risks and Facilities, Registration, Design and Public Programming.

    The first stage of the project involved working with the schedule established by BH and additional contractors in regard to the garden construction. The design included the establishment of a new garden on the previous garden site. Discussions and supervision of the engineered placement of the footings and bases for the works were maintained as the elements of the garden design were considered and changed. This included the addition of thousands of cubic meters of new soil, planting of trees and shrubs, building walkways, irrigation systems and waterproofing of the garden base floor, which is the existing ceiling of the subbasement of the building itself.

    Deborah Halpern "Angel"

    The primary obstacle to the installation of the sculptures was the use of heavy equipment on the newly established soil and the prevention of damage to the internal irrigation and waterproof membrane that existed beneath the soil surface. Each piece of heavy equipment to be used had to be approved by engineers, as it was critical to ensure that the combined weight of the equipment and sculptures was well within safe working limits.

    Ultimately all involved parties agreed that no heavy equipment should be used on the site until after the winter months and the rainy season had given the soil some time to create some natural compaction. This delayed the project considerably and meant that all work had to be undertaken around the new existing landscape features.
    When the actual installation procedure was executed all heavy equipment, which included cranes and trucks, had to be driven over 20mm plywood walkways to help eliminate damage to the soil surface and possible disruption of the internal components within the subsoil.

    Deborah Halpern "Angel"

    The second obstacle to the installation process was the access route from the street to the garden, which were the adjacent front and side forecourt and walkways between the Victorian Arts Center and the National Gallery of Victoria building. The main difficulty of this access route was the fact that the existing public spaces of the substructures beneath. The substructures below this area include one of the main performing theatres, internal public service areas and in one area two levels of underground car parking.

    Careful planning and negotiating had to be undertaken with the Victorian Arts Center, and be approved by their engineers before any heavy equipment was moved across these areas.

    The Rodin and Henry Moore sculptures have been on long-term loan and were displayed at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park in Langwarrin, Victoria. These sculptures were removed in early winter to prevent damage to the McClelland Gallery's lawns and stored at JK Fasham warehouse where they prepared for the final installation. Both works needed minor preparation and were the simplest works in the whole project due to their sizes and weights. Each work was delivered and installed with a 10-ton flat top crane truck.

    Willem de Kooning "Figure"

    The Willem de Kooning " Standing Figure" was previously installed on the front forecourt of the Victorian Arts Center. It was removed in early August and taken off site for storage until the final installation in the new Sculpture Garden could be made.

    The size and weight of this work meant that it was impossible to move it through the general access route and the combined weight of the crane and the sculpture was too great. Final installation of the work was achieved by using an 80-ton crane based in Sturt Street, which runs parallel to the back portion of the Gallery and Garden. The crane lifted the sculpture up and over the two-story portion of the building area and across into its final location in the Sculpture Garden. This installation was done on a Saturday morning as Sturt Street had to be temporarily closed off while the crane was positioned and the sculpture lifted into the Garden.

    "Messenger" by Geoffrey Bartlett had to be relocated from the right front moat at the front of the NGV in St. Kilda Road. Many discussions and negotiations were held with the artist and engineers to determine how this large work could be removed, relocated and reinstalled. Like the De Kooning, due to its size and weight it was impossible to take this sculpture through the general access route between the NGV and the VAC. It was finally decided that the work be disassembled, moved in sections to its new site in the Sculpture Garden and then reassembled.

    In early October the work was disassembled into four pieces and then taken off site to be reconditioned and painted. While the work was being reconditioned and painted, the slab within the moat in the new Sculpture Garden had to be altered and enlarged due to design and placement changes requested by the artist.

    In early November the work was transported back to the NGV and all parts taken through the general access route to the Sculpture Garden. The work was reassembled and all welding was conditioned and repainted for its final treatment. This work involved a 12-ton "Franner" crane, which is a small flexible crane that could maneuver through the general access area and around the existing garden landscaping. Since the work had been disassembled this crane was sufficient to lift the individual portions and extend the portions into the sunken moat area and onto the concrete slab for its final placement.

    Deborah Halpern "Angel" - installed

    The Deborah Halpern "Angel" was located in the left side moat at the front of the NGV in St. Kilda Road. It was determined that this work was to be removed from the site and be stored until a future date when a suitable location for it had been agreed. This work was by far the largest of all the six sculptures and weighed approximately 40 tons. It stood approximately seven meters high. It had to be disassembled and removed in three major portions.

    The work is composed of colored ceramic tile, which are adhered to a concrete and steel mesh support structure. Over the 20 years that the sculpture had been installed at the gallery the surface tile had begun to separate and fall away in some minor areas. It was determined that the entire work should be wrapped in a wide plastic tape sheeting to assure that no tiles would come loose during its de-installation and transport. The work was started in early November and took two weeks to prepare and disassemble before it was removed.

    Two 80-ton cranes were positioned on the St Kilda Road access street adjacent to the building. They were needed to lift the work out of the moat above 15-meter tall trees, which lined the roadway and then turn the work on its side over the roadway to be loaded onto the trucks. Like the De Kooning this work was done early on a Saturday morning and required the access street being closed for several hours while the operation took place.

    Even cut into three sections the main body of the work was so large that oversized transport permits had to be obtained and escort vehicles used during its transport to the off-site storage.

    The Ferdinand Leger " La Grande Parade" is a large mural, which had to be installed onto a large framework built within the garden. This was the last work to be installed because once it was installed access routes between the established garden elements would be greatly reduced.

    The support structure required concrete footings and a tedious framework that supported the work structurally against the issues of wind resistance and the weight of the mural. This work is the centerpiece in the garden as viewed from the back entrance of the gallery into the sculpture Garden.

    Though only working with a few sculptures over a ten-month timeframe this project was an extreme challenge in regard to all of the external components and personalities involved. It was a rewarding experience to have completed this project on time and to now see the public using this garden as an extension of the beautiful new gallery spaces here the National Gallery of Victoria.