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Henry Moore sculpture makes epic journey for its first indoor show

A feat of planning has ensured that Large Two Forms is safely in place for its exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London

The epic seriousness, the male and female interplay, the weathered air of age: Henry Moore's Large Two Forms evoke all these things in their first ever indoor show at the Gagosian Gallery in London. Yet they also pose a rather mundane question: how on earth did that get in here?

Extremely carefully, is the short answer. The two enormous bronzes are hollow (they clang when you tap them), but still weigh about three and a half tonnes each. Installing them, and some other pieces, in this space has required a collapsible crane and the demolition of several walls. "We've never dropped one yet," says Anita Feldman, curator at the Henry Moore Foundation, who is overseeing things.

The show has also been a feat of planning. Each piece has to be delivered and unloaded in a precise order, and the movements of the crane all plotted in advance, or else the massive objects can get stuck behind each other.

In their usual setting at the foundation's Perry Green headquarters, the Large Two Forms are attached to steel girders, which are buried in the ground. Shortly before delivery, these were dug up, and both forms were strapped to a flatbed lorry and driven down the A10 or the M11. For security reasons, following a spate of bronze thefts, there is some deliberate vagueness about the route. Nor am I allowed to know what value is attached to the work (although another Henry Moore bronze, Reclining Figure: Festival, recently sold for £19.1m at auction). Even so, this one must be fairly safe. Its scrap value would be only £8,000-10,000, barely enough to recoup the cost of stealing it.

On arrival at the gallery, the forms are lifted off the truck and placed on casters, in front of a dumbstruck crowd. Like blocks for the Great Pyramid, they are then rolled inside by a team of five men, through two of the demolished walls. (These will be rebuilt before the show starts, then demolished afterwards to get everything out, then rebuilt again.)

Once the first form is in place, someone clambers up it with a padded stepladder to attach slings in a specific, balanced way. "It has to be absolutely right," Feldman explains, "because if it's slightly off, the crane could go. It could even kill somebody." At the same time, someone with a spanner has to lie down underneath the form to unbolt it from its girders. This requires some strength, and quite a lot of courage.

At last, the crane lifts the sculpture up and away. This is quite a moment, as all three and a half tonnes now hang freely. You could send it swinging with a finger (although no one does). After some final consultations, it is lowered again, very slowly, on to its shadow. There is a rumbling vibration as it touches. It is not quite flush with the concrete floor, but doesn't wobble like a restaurant table.

Now the team needs to do the same for the second form, but even more carefully, so it won't crash into the first. Halfway through, however, it is clear that Feldman isn't happy with the placement. "I wouldn't move it now," she said earlier. "There's too much work to move it all again." Yet this, in fact, is exactly what she has decided needs to happen. There are some long-suffering noises from the movers, before they agree that to shift the work 5ft into the centre of the room they will have to start afresh. When the show finishes in August, they'll be back to do everything backwards. "That's usually faster," Feldman says.

Henry Moore, Late Large Forms, will be at Gagosian Gallery, London, from 31 May – 18 August © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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