Valuable works of art, like rock stars, tend to travel with a retinue. Among the individuals gathered in the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall yesterday morning to watch the sendoff of David Smith's 1-ton steel sculpture "Zig IV," which is on its way to the Tate Modern for a centennial exhibition of Smith's work, was the consulting conservator for Lincoln Center's sculptures, Marc-Christian Roussel. An outdoorsy-looking redhead who studied sculpture at the Art Students League and worked in foundries and fabrication shops before joining the family conservation business, Mr. Roussel knows a lot about "Zig IV," such as how it can be handled and how it can't.
Take the wheels, for instance: "Zig IV" sits on a base on wheels, which make it look as though it could just be rolled outdoors and into the truck. Not so, Mr. Roussel said. "The wheels are original," he explained, "and the estate has warned me to be very cautious in using them. They've had some come off." Because Smith was a packrat, Mr. Roussel said, the wheels could be significantly older than the sculpture, which Smith made in 1961, a few years before he died in a car accident. "The wheels could be from the '20s or '30s," Mr. Roussel said. "He could have bought them in a hardware store."
At around 10 a.m., Marshall Didier and his team from the art handling company Marshall Fine Arts arrived. Lincoln Center employees had already removed some doors from Avery Fisher to create an opening wide enough for the crate to go through. The sculpture was lifted on a pallet jack, rolled a few feet to the crate, and then rolled — gently — on its own wheels just a few inches up a ramp. It took Mr. Roussel and several of the art handlers to push it into the crate. Then the crating manager, Paul Speh, started to build the interior structure.
"Zig IV" is overall quite sturdy. "Smith was an exceptional technician as well as artist. His welds are great," Mr. Didier, a slight man whose bowler hat gave him an elfin appearance., said.
"It's built like a tank," Mr. Speh said of the sculpture.
Still, the sculpture has two vulnerable areas. One is the surface, which Smith painted orange and green in loose brushstrokes. The other is the long, cantilevered section that extends from the top corner. If that moves, Mr. Roussel explained, it torques the sculpture's base, which could cause the paint to crack. To prevent that, Mr. Speh was bracing the sculpture with two-by-fours layered with foam and Tyvek, a synthetic material that is almost impossible to tear. It is also very smooth, so it would create minimal friction with the painted surface.
When the bracing was complete, the men from Marshall Fine Arts would nail up the crate and roll it outside and across the plaza to their truck, which was parked right beyond the Jersey barriers. "Zig IV" will be kept in Marshall Fine Arts's climate-controlled storage facility on Long Island until Tuesday, when it goes to John F. Kennedy Jr. airport.
From there, Mr. Roussel will accompany the sculpture on every step of its slightly circuitous journey. Because it's difficult to fly large cargo directly to London, Mr. Roussel and "Zig IV" will fly by KLM passenger plane to Amsterdam, then travel by ferry to Harwich, on the southeast coast of England, and by truck to London, where the Smith exhibition opens on November 1. When the exhibition closes, "Zig IV" will retrace its path back to New York, again with Mr. Roussel in attendance, and resume its place in Avery Fisher by the first week of February.