Help with their hang-ups

An off-the-wall squad of mobile technicians provides after-care for corporate art collections. Alex Pitt reports look
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The Independent Culture
The security guard of a well-known City institution watches as two men in motorcycle gear walk the length of the pink marble-clad entrance hall. They halt in front of a large abstract painting and place their glass-fibre panniers and helmets on the slick, polished floor. Then, reaching up, they lift the picture clean off its mountings. An audacious theft by bikers with a grudge against modern art? The guard hasn't raised an eyebrow.

"We are fast becoming the paramedics of the corporate art world." This is Roy Couzens, one of the bikers, and director of Essential Art Services. And the "paramedics" are, apparently, bringing relief to someone in pain. "I'll be glad to see the back of that," snaps the receptionist, pointing a finger towards the vivid red and yellow painting being removed from an adjacent wall. It's by John Hoyland, one of Britain's most celebrated abstract artists. "It's like a plate of sick."

Alas, the picture is being moved 3ft closer to her desk. "You're joking! I'm going to talk to Health and Safety - those colours bring on my migraines."

Unlike the major galleries, corporate art collections do not have in- house specialists to maintain their collections. This gap in the market is filled by EAS, which not only installs collections but also offers after-care service. "As far as we know, we're unique," says Roy.

EAS was formed three years ago. It now has an annual turnover of pounds 300,000. It employs 13 peripatetic art technicians, all art school graduates with gallery experience, their motorbikes the perfect antidote to the congested City streets. The EAS client list ranges from small companies to multinationals: Barclays, PowerGen, Texaco, Hewlett Packard and Smith-Kline Beecham.

"Take Texaco, for example," says Roy, cutting a length of brass picture hanging chain. "Its collection numbers over 900 works of art - prints, sculptures, tapestries, paintings. We hung them all. But it doesn't end there. They need to be monitored, cleaned and relocated."

On the third floor, framing specialist Guy Pinfold is measuring a niche on the trading floor. Propped beside him is a large brown watercolour of a Great Dane by Dame Elizabeth Frink. "This old dog resided quite happily in the coffee area, but he's been ousted by a new vending machine," Guy explains. "But he doesn't appear to mind. Does he?"

Still, Guy hurries, knowing that this afternoon EAS has been booked by solicitors Lewis Silkin on Victoria Street to take down their entire art collection and rehang it in their new offices. On arrival the EAS team are briefed by Lewis Silkin's art consultant, Marian Stone: the four then sweep the offices like a team of burglars, removing 60 to 70 works of art in the blinking of an eye. It's a litany of contemporary British art: Caulfield, Frink, Kitaj, Hodgkin, Tilson, Hockney ... each is carefully stacked on trolleys and transported down in the lift and across the street.

Roy clocks the new space:"Let's start with the boardroom." Done. Pool, a black and blue tapestry by Patrick Caulfield (pounds 5,000) is chosen for one wall. On the other side of the vast boardroom table an orangey print, Eye Mantra, by Joe Tilson (pounds 1,500), is selected to fill the gap between two windows. On the longest wall, plans for siting Indian Views (pounds 15,000), a series of 12 early Howard Hodgkin prints in sequence, are suddenly scuppered: "Why did they put that there?" bellows Roy, catching sight of a wall thermostat.

Calmer now, the hanging commences. Conversation among the crew is in the vernacular: x-hooks, double x-hooks, triple x-hooks, d-rings, mirror plates, centre lines.

"We've hung thousands of pictures all over London," says part-time musician Phil Poppy,slotting David Hockney's portrait of Yves Marie above a group of family photographs in a senior partner's office with remarkable casualness. "After a while you don't notice the art. It just becomes shapes to be hung. Actually, a lot of the collections are very similar anyway."

Poppy shrugs and Guy nods. "It's a bit like wallpapering really. It becomes routine. Occasionally, something jumps out at you, a Picasso or Matisse perhaps. But not often." Art for business's sake.

"This is the last one," Roy sighs, straightening a sugary blue Patrick Caulfield, from The Poems of Jules Laforgue series, one of 22 scattered around the office.

"These guys are brilliant!" Marian exclaims. "They have done a job that could have taken two days in six or seven hours. If you had people who didn't know what they were doing, it would have been a disaster."

The EAS team take the compliment with smiles and congregate by the lifts. "Remember the Great Dane I hung this morning on the trading floor?" a weary Guy asks no one in particular. "They want it moved again." There's a collective shrug.