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Sculptor Petah Coyne is protective of her “girls.” Though they are sturdily madetheir cascades of ribbons, tassels, artificial flowers, and fake birds are constructed on armatures of chicken wire and steel cablingtheir wax-encrusted surfaces are easily marred. And though they weigh as much as 900 pounds, they can never touch the groundthey’d collapse.
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To transport the pieces from her Brooklyn studio to the Corcoran Museum of Art, where her 16-piece solo exhibition “Black/White/Black” opens Oct. 26, Coyne commissioned Crozier, a New York fine-art-handling firm, to construct special crates, each specific to the dimensions of an individual piece. “We had to photodocument them very, very carefully before we uncrated them,” says exhibition curator Terrie Sultan. After the show closes on Feb. 10, it moves to Atlanta’s High Museum, and “we have to be able to get them back into the crates.”
Each piece is hauled into Gallery 15 on a motor hoist, a piece of equipment normally used for moving automobile engine blocks. Coyne’s has been modified, its hook inverted so that a sculpture can be dropped rather than lifted onto a crane. The crane lifts the work to the desired height, where it is attached to the end of a chain. Each chain is attached to a thin cable that passes through a dropped ceiling of skylights and secures the piece to the structural beams of the building’s roof.
Coyne is pleased with the progress of the work. She has brought with her a personal assistant, plus two more who specialize in moving the work, and the Corcoran has a nine-person staff on the job. Her installation time usually averages a day per piece, but here that figure should be cut in half.
So what happens if a piece won’t make it through the door? For Coyne it’s more than a theoretical question. When one sculpture wouldn’t fit into the Corcoran’s elevator it had to be cut into four sections with a chainsaw. Coyne says she knew the size limitations but doesn’t like to be constricted by them when working: “They gave me the plans two years ago, and I’ve had them posted on my wall and I have it written on every pillar in my studio…but then when I get working on it, it just gets too big. So either we have to crush the piece, which we don’t want to do, or you have to cut it.”Glenn Dixon