Only a few of weeks into the job, the new curator of the Indiana State University Permanent Art Collection is preparing one of its most valuable pieces for a bon voyage. Jason Krueger, a 2013 Master of Fine Arts graduate, departed Monday for Marseille, France, with “Smoke Stacks,” a 1935-era oil on canvas by Joseph Stella.
Packaged in a special waterproof crate, the Stella piece — valued as much as $1.5 million — will be accompanied by Krueger through the backdoors of customs areas and have its own trucks for transportation. Krueger will additionally be carrying white gloves in case customs wants to check the painting.
“At first, it sounded like I was going to have to sleep in the warehouse with the painting, but they have security and staff for it (at night),” he said. “I still have to get up early and stay late to make sure it’s handled and hung properly.”
The packaging crate is so specific that the manufacturer was concerned the painting wouldn’t fit after learning Krueger intended to wrap it in protective paper. “So, the thickness of the paper on two sides mattered. It just fit in the box,” he said, adding that it took two hours to get it packaged.
On the plane, “Smoke Stacks” will be held in a climate-controlled, pressurized portion of the cargo hold. “If we crash in the middle of the ocean, ostensibly, the black boxes and the Stella will survive and nothing else. You won’t be able to find it, because it won’t have a beeper on it. But it’ll be there,” he said.
“Smoke Stacks” is part of the “FUTURS: De la Ville aux Étoiles” exhibit, running May through October, that explores the impact of science, industry and technology on the inspiration of modern artists leading to works that are poetic, futuristic and/or portray utopias. Stella’s works will be displayed in the room of a Roman-era building with recessed windows that project same shape of light that Stella portrayed in his paintings.
“It’s going to be this connection between the world-changing Roman Empire and Stella’s portrayal of the world-changing industrialization,” Krueger said. “The same pattern of light is going to be both in the space and the paintings.”
The Stella piece has been previously loaned for exhibitions in New York, Belgium and Athens, Ga. While Krueger is unsure how the most recent exhibitors learned of Indiana State’s painting, the exposure only increases its value. “We’re known as a good lender from when we lent to Belgium a couple of years ago,” Krueger said. “I’d like it to go to Italy some day. That’s where Joseph Stella was born.”
“Smoke Stacks” has travelled so much that when it returns in the fall, it’ll go into storage to “rest,” rather than being returned to the office of John Murray, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Light isn’t good for any of us, but a lot of people don’t think about artwork being living things. So, they’re out and about all of the time. If we were out and about and didn’t tuck in or take a vacation, we’d get damaged, too,” Krueger said. “These pieces are going to out-live us, and I’d like for it to out-live us for a long time.”
After Krueger, who started work in early April, returns from France, he’ll have his work cut out for him managing the rest of the Permanent Art Collection, which recently went under control of the university’s Cunningham Memorial Library’s special collections department. “Cunningham Memorial Library is delighted to have responsibility for the Indiana State University Permanent Art Collection,” said Robin Crumrin, dean of the library. “The international demand for Stella’s ‘Smoke Stacks’ is only one indication of the significance of the entire collection. The library is uniquely positioned to provide ongoing access and preservation of the entire collection for the future.”
As with any transition, there’s the usual untangling of websites and files, and Krueger has been researching software specifications to determine what’s best for managing the collection — keeping it both safe and accessible. “Part of my job is going to be putting up the rest of the great work that we have so that people can find it in an online catalog,” Krueger said.
The library’s stewardship gives the collection and curator more day-to-day support. The library, too, could become a model building for the collection. “The library deals with rare and unique materials all of the time in its special collections department, so it was a good fit to have the Permanent Art Collection as part of special collections because of its emphasis on conservation and access to primary source materials,” said Cinda May, chair of special collections. “People on the library staff are very excited about it and are looking forward to new opportunities to combine art with what we do with other information sources.”
Sorting out what should be in the Permanent Art Collection, which includes two-dimensional art, as well as ceramics and sculptures, is another challenge for Krueger, as the collection has a “long and varied history” of how pieces were introduced. Some pieces were gifts from individuals or institutions, while others were purchased by a department or the university. “What I’m going to enjoy the most is seeing the collection grow and develop into something that reflects the strengths on campus and shares that with the campus and broader collection,” Krueger said.
Pieces in the Permanent Art Collection can be loaned to university offices through an application process. As in the Stella piece, “there are instances when it’s important for the collection or scholarship for us to break those loan agreements. I hope it happens a lot, but I hope not to the point where people feel it’s disruptive,” he said. Krueger would like to start a conservation cycle of the collection’s key pieces, with “Smoke Stacks” taking priority. “It’s in really good shape, but I’m sure there are things we can do to make sure that it continues to be in great shape,” he said.
Photos: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Media-Arts-and-Sciences/Jason-Krueger-Permanent-Art/i-vwR8Gb7/0/XL/05_01_15_Jason_Krueger-64-XL.jpg — Jason Krueger, curator of the Indiana State University Permanent Art Collection, poses for a portrait in the storage area.
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/Media-Arts-and-Sciences/Jason-Krueger-Permanent-Art/i-Bz5W3Lm/0/XL/05_01_15_Jason_Krueger-45-XL.jpg — Jason Krueger, curator of the Indiana State University Permanent Art Collection, poses for a portrait in the storage area.
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/ISUphotoservices/Photography-Services-Miscellan/Stella-Painting-2015/i-QWVNpXr/0/X2/02_02_15_stella_painting-7305-X2.jpg — “Smoke Stacks” by Joseph Stella (Italian-American, 1877-1946), oil on canvas, 36×30 inches, c. 1935.
Contact: Cinda May, special collections chair at Indiana State University’s Cunningham Memorial Library, 812-237-2534 or Cinda.May@indstate.edu
Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or firstname.lastname@example.org