8am: Today we are preparing to move Miró’s Message from a Friend from the display on Level 3 at Tate Modern into our exhibition galleries on the floor above.
It has been hanging alongside Henri Matisse’s The Snail, another Tate icon, and they have established a happy dialogue - rather like the more distant, dialogue between the artists themselves. As I also work on how the collection is shown at Tate Modern, I have been planning the replacement work for this space for some time. This should be resolved before we open to the public at 10.00 am, so there is a timetable to meet.
8.30 am: This is certainly a team effort. The painting is 2.75 metres across and 2.62 metres high (roughly 9 foot in each direction), so it demands a lot of care and attention. Our conservator responsible for the exhibition has already checked the painting, but is making a final inspection and taking notes and photographs for the record. We need to know its condition before the move and will check it again later. It is actually a remarkably stable work, even though its size could present problems. Our art handling team, meanwhile, have just brought up the carrying frame, a specially constructed wooden crate that provides additional support for the canvas during the move. Even small twists could damage the paint surface. While all this is going on, I am trying to visualise how Miró, who was not a tall man, set about painting this huge canvas.
8.50 am: Checked and ready to go, the art handlers brace the painting as they undo the screws. Coordination and double-checking are important and the senior technician ensures that each stage is clear. There is quite a lot of counting in order to synchronise efforts. 8.55 am: The painting is lifted off the brackets onto blocks on a stacker - a sort of mobile mechanical lifting machine that works a bit like the tail-lift of a delivery van (though is hand-cranked for greater precision and safety). Once in place the brakes are snapped off and the painting rolled away from the wall. The carrying frame is slid into place and, again with snapping of brakes, the stacker rolled back for the painting to be lowered safely into the waiting carrying frame. It all runs smoothly.
9.00 am: Bolted into its carrying frame Message from a Friend is now on the move. Tate Modern is a big place, but even 3 metre high doors need to be negotiated carefully when dealing with a work of this size. Our lift, of course, is vast, so there is no problem with taking it up a floor directly into the exhibition space. Our teams are tremendously experienced and hard-working, but this is a useful practice run for the other really big paintings that will join the exhibition from around the world.
9.10 am: Message from a Friend is trundled into Room 8 in the exhibition space and placed against the wall for further conservation inspection. There is an air of quiet celebration as it is, after all, the first painting to arrive. We have been imagining this for years and now it is beginning to come together. There are still many other details to be double-checked, but one picture up - one hundred and fifty-one to go!
Matthew Gale is Head of Displays at Tate Modern and co-curator of Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape at Tate Modern.