Each year, the Academy receives numerous requests from museums the world over seeking to borrow artwork from its permanent collection. And each time a work of art travels for loan, a courier goes along with it. Our own pool of couriers consists of our registrars, Cynthia Low and Pauline Sugino; our collections managers, Courtney Brebbia and Celeste Ohta; Asian art curators Sawako Chang and Shawn Eichman; and me.
Courier trips are truly one of the perks to our jobs. After all, who wouldn’t turn down an all-expenses-paid trip to Tokyo, New York, or London? But the allure of international travel carries with it an enormous responsibility: to ensure that the Academy’s treasures make it safely to their destinations. Courier trips are far from glamorous, for they require early morning wake-up calls, long hours in drafty cargo terminals, and the stressful business of supervising the crating and transport of the artwork. We’re there to make sure that Vincent van Gogh’s Wheatfield doesn’t ride from Zürich to Los Angeles next to a shipment of virus samples packed in dry ice (yes, this was actually proposed to us), or to intervene when Claude Monet’s Water Lilies doesn’t fit into its designated container (this happened too). We operate on insane travel schedules—try traveling from Honolulu to spend just three days in Basel—and the jet lag we experience is often unreal.
My most recent courier trip made it all worth it. The Metropolitan Museum of Art borrowed the Academy’s Paul Cézanne drawing, Card Player, for its recent exhibition focusing on the card player motif in Cézanne’s art, and I was tapped to accompany the drawing back to Honolulu after the show closed on May 8. Typically, couriers arrive on the scene as the exhibition in question is either being hung or dismantled. This time, however, I arrived in New York with a day to spare to see Cézanne’s Card Players at the Met.
To my surprise and delight, immediately visible through the gallery door was none other than the Academy’s drawing. It was hanging alongside the Met’s version of Card Players, for which it is the earliest known study. The accompanying label revealed that the Academy’s Card Players had been brought together with the finished Met version for the very first time in an exhibition. To see our Cézanne so magnificently represented was beyond rewarding, for it reminded me anew of the importance, breadth, and depth of the Academy’s collection.
Editor’s note: Find out how the Academy’s drawing became a part of this exhibition here.