A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.
“Most people think ‘collection manager’ means I work in billing. Actually, I oversee and care for the collection in the Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art. I oversee the movement and storage of the art, I arrange for conservation, and I oversee installations, loans, and exhibitions. The curators take care of the research and writing end, and I’m more the logistics, the nuts-and-bolts side.
“A large part of my job over the years has been traveling with art. It’s called couriering. Sometimes you send a courier because it’s a complicated installation, or because we want to monitor a piece’s condition. A lot of times, especially internationally, you send a courier because it’s a long trip, and a lot could happen.
“The first trip I ever took internationally was when I lived in Dallas. It was for a painting that was too big to go on a regular passenger flight, so we booked a freighter to Madrid. There were only, like, four seats and the cockpit, and there were no attendants.
“I’m on the plane, and there’s a curtain with beds behind it, because they switch out the pilots. So halfway through the flight, the curtain opens, and a bunch of pilots in their underwear come out, and they all shriek to see me. They’re like, ‘We’re so sorry—no one told us you were on the plane.’ And then they were like, ‘Well, since you’ve seen it, we’re just gonna spend the rest of the flight in our underwear.’
“For domestic trips, you’re often on a truck. Sometimes the trucks are owner-operated, and oftentimes they’ll have their pets on board. I’ve been on trucks with, like, five poodles. One time there was a parrot that some kids had put in a microwave, so it had some problems, and it kept going underneath the gas pedal. It was messed up.
“I spent most of my time on the floor, removing the parrot, so we would not crash and die.
“I used to work for the Field Museum, and the exhibition in 2005 on ‘Splendors of the Forbidden City’ was my show. I went many times to Beijing to negotiate the loans and oversee the packing. At one point a colleague and I had to fly there for 24 hours to meet with some high-up government administrators to solidify all the loans.
“We went to dinner with all these high-up people, and they had this huge spread of delicacies. I told them we were vegetarian, but I made the mistake of saying I would eat seafood. I am not an adventurous eater, and for one dish, our translator was like, ‘I don’t know what that is in English. The best I can do is ‘fish with many paws.” But I ate everything, because I needed to make that deal happen.
“At the end, they brought out this big bottle of liquor with flames on the side, and they said, ‘We’re sure you don’t want this.’ I was like, ‘No, no, please pour away.’ The translator was like, ‘Do not drink it.’ I was like, ‘I have to drink it. I will just resign myself to the fact that I will be ill.’ At the end of the evening, I was the last one standing. And they were like, ‘You win. You can have what you want.'”