ORIGINAL PRINTS by pop-art legends Andy Warhol and David Hockney turned up at a Jubilee Line Extension site on London's South Bank just before Christmas.
Colin MacKenzie, project director for Balfour Beatty/ Amec's Waterloo and Westminster contract, said he could not believe his eyes when what he though was more Christmas booty from subcontractors turned out to be a valuable gallery collection.
'We get a number of bottles and gifts from subbies at Christmas,' said MacKenzie. 'When I was told that four large boxes had arrived, I assumed that was what they were.'
Intrigued by the size of the boxes - 'five by four by three feet and extremely well made' - MacKenzie joined the storeman to investigate what seemed an extremely generous gift. And judging from the size and quality of the packaging, explained MacKenzie, the cases clearly contained more than the odd bottle of scotch.
Having rechecked the courier address label, the two carefully unscrewed and removed the snug-fitting lid and lifted out the foam lining. Underneath was a dozen carefully packed pictures - 'great new prints to hang around the office', thought MacKenzie, 'and really good quality'.
The haul was unpacked in the storeroom and inspected. The crates contained about 30 pictures including prints that MacKenzie recognised as being by Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Eduardo Paolozzi.
MacKenzie said the truth suddenly dawned when he noticed a small label on the back of one print. It read 'Hayward Gallery Travelling Exhibition'. 'At that point I thought to myself 'I don't think I should have these',' MacKenzie told NCE.
When the JLE project director phoned the Hayward Gallery, in the South Bank complex next to the site, he was at first told that the travelling exhibitions curator was out. 'But when I explained to the reception why I was calling she arrived back in about 10 seconds,' he laughed. A box
van arrived in minutes to collect the crates.
The mix up is thought to have happened as the pictures, part of the National Touring Exhibition, were being returned by courier from being on display in the Nuneaton museum. The contractor regularly uses the same courier to carry specially imported products and architectural details and the crates somehow got lumped in with BBA's shipment and were addressed to MacKenzie.
NCE asked Natasha Board from Christies to make a valuation of the some of the prints included in the exhibition. She estimated that Andy Wharol's 'Jackie' was worth in excess of £1,000, while Richard Hamilton's 'My Marilyn' would sell for over £3,000. However, the exhibition's biggest draw was Roy Liechtenstein's £20,000 plus 'Rverie'.
A spokesman for the Hayward Gallery said steps had been taken to ensure the problem could not occur again.
'I would not be surprised if the Hayward has a few of our floor tiles and the odd tunnel segment on exhibition,' joked MacKenzie, reflecting on his retirement in South America that could have been.
Anyone wanting to see what could so easily have been adorning the walls at JLE's Waterloo site offices should visit the Wyeside gallery at Builth Wells until 15 February or the Nene College Gallery in Northampton between 21 February and 22 March.