People of UOVO: Chris Hearn on Inventory Management and Decorative Arts
This is the third installment in our “People of UOVO” series. We’re excited to introduce more members of our team and discuss some of the ins and outs behind the scenes of the art storage and services business.
With a busy November behind us, we sat down with crew chief Chris Hearn to talk about how he prepares for large, complicated projects, why a detailed inventory is so important, and how his experience handling decorative arts has made him an informed viewer of Antiques Roadshow.
Chris Hearn, UOVO Crew Chief
A: Tell me about yourself and how you came to be a crew chief at UOVO.
CH: I’ve been handling art for over 16 years in some form. I started helping out a friend with small jobs and within a year I had my own “man with a van” company for two years, moving furniture and art. I fell in with a group of artists in Williamsburg, Brooklyn who all started calling me for jobs, so I outfitted the van with racking to better accommodate artwork and transport it safely. I eventually became an art handler at another logistics company, which is also how I got to know Angel [Periera, Warehouse Manager at UOVO:33 Kings HWY]. Back then, we both wanted to move out of the city and hoped to continue working in the art logistics business. UOVO:33 Kings HWY has allowed us to do that, so we’re very happy to work out of this facility.
A: How do you tackle large or complicated projects?
CH: I always over-prepare. I print extra barcodes, I set up extra spreadsheets, I have my lucky socks and a back-up pair of lucky socks. Clients will tell us the nature of the works and the volume, but it’s very common for the scope to change and a pick-up of 10 pieces to turn into 50.
We don’t ask about the value of the works; it’s irrelevant. It’s all precious and valuable because of how the owner feels about the objects. In some ways, not being an artist has been important in my work: I am in awe of all the art I see and handle.
A: Are there any projects that have particularly stood out to you?
CH: The trickiest install I ever worked on was some years ago, where we were asked to install 24 8’ x 8’ panels from the 18ft-ceiling of a performance space on short notice. It was only me, a much older art handler, and a guy who was brand new, and we worked all night to make sure those panels were lined up perfectly.
The surprisingly difficult projects though are the ones that are months, or even years, in the making. Those are usually for houses being built or renovated, where the designers need a highly detailed inventory in order to plan exactly where everything goes well in advance. They’ll want to lay out rooms, pair furniture and artwork together, long before the house is complete. I’ve helped with furniture and art installations that I’ll see later in Architectural Digest– it’s an amazing feeling.
A: What’s the benefit of a detailed inventory?
CH: I was working on a project for a private collector that we inherited from another moving company. Unfortunately, the company didn’t include more information than just “chair” or “table” in their inventory. There was no differentiation between a living room armchair and a dining room chair, so the collector couldn’t easily request items from storage or for delivery. We’re working on properly condition reporting and describing them now to make this process a lot easier.
At one of my first art handling jobs, I was responsible for data entry and inventory management. We would get descriptions from overseas auctions that were almost poetic: they made the furniture more important than any old “table” or “chair.” Then, as now, we would do a lot of research about the pieces and their provenance, which I’ve really enjoyed learning about. One of our art handlers, Mike Arciuolo, who’s working on that collector’s inventory project right now, will text me when we’re both home watching the Antiques Roadshow – we make much better guesses about what things are now!
A: What do you like about working with the decorative arts?
CH: It’s much more unpredictable. With 2D works, you can show up to a gallery or a collector’s house and know that you’ll have to make a certain number of shadowboxes and a certain number of slipcases. With the decorative arts, you have to consider the effects that certain materials have on each other when they touch and how the works move through space. You can’t be on autopilot.
In my very first year as an art handler, I moved Joseph Stalin’s writing desk, Elie Wiesel’s typewriter, and Napoleon’s pocketwatch that he wore during The Battle of Waterloo. These are items that have witnessed history.
A: Obviously your work has made Antiques Roadshow more exciting, but has it affected your own personal taste?
CH: It’s hard to not be fascinated by the craftsmanship of Victorian furniture and I’ve always loved those pieces. My recent experience with this one collection has really made me really appreciate Pennsylvania Dutch furniture, both its actual construction and its decoration. Beyond the actual crafting of the structure, the furniture is often painted with a motif. I appreciate the people who made this furniture both as craftsmen, who built beautiful sturdy furniture that has lasted hundreds of years, but also as artists.