According to the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2019, there’s been an uptick in global art sales of about 6% since the previous year. Auction sales and art fairs are part of the mix in driving the overall volume of art sales upward. This means there will likely be a focused surge in the transport of artwork in a remarkable feat of moving some of the world’s most valued treasures around the world.
Even if the surge of art sales alone won’t boost the international transport of fine art, the exchange and loan of paintings from museum to museum, collectors to exhibits, and others who wish to share their treasures with others are part of the worldwide volume of art transportation and logistics.
The process of moving art begins before it's even touched. Shipping artwork, according to an article in The Guardian, requires careful planning across many stakeholders. These include museum curators, registrars, handlers and conservators, insurance professionals, and couriers, among others. Shipping the art depends on many factors: size, worth, its value, where it’s coming from, and who’s borrowing it (if anyone is). These factors, along with the many players in the entire supply chain of fine art are often accompanied by much documentation – and often some bickering along the way. The Guardian article also explained that after the exhibits, viewing, catalog entries, and any sale, it’s time for the art to move on.
So the journey begins.
Small art objects (e.g. small artifacts, manuscripts, or jewelry) are placed in a hand luggage – usually with it own first-class seat on a plane. Larger art is crated and shipped, very carefully, by an alternate mode – often by way of truck, and sometimes by air. Crating and packing of art is in and of itself its own art form. Crates are carefully constructed, and the shipment moves with all the packing methods of preventing shock, controlling temperature, and any other required measures to prevent damage, while protecting and preserving the art. The art is then usually tracked with GPS, given its high value.
Generally, a courier is appointed to the art to keep a constant eye on it from the moment it leaves the museum, to its transfer to a carrier or other shipper, and every other point along it own supply chain until it reaches its final destination. In some cases, a courier may ensure the artwork is placed properly in its container, fits through all entrances and exits anywhere it is transported, and handled carefully and safely throughout its fragile journey.
When Mexican artist Marianela Fuentes’ sculpture Ichiro the Dino (dinosaur) was transported, a comprehensive plan was put into motion in order to accommodate transporting the massive sculpture. Fuentes initially had reservations regarding shipping the sculpture, but eventually agreed to move forth, transporting the artwork from Mexico City to Washington D.C. The dinosaur skeleton – in all its rising 30-ft. tall glory – had to be walked up 11 floors of a hotel to its resting place of display, the rooftop bar.
Ichiro the Dino sits atop a building in Washington D.C. Source: WUSA9 News
Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances can materialize and wreak havoc. Like when a fire broke out at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in the city’s Chelsea district, and that's not to mention art being damaged in transit. Couriers lose the item. Handlers even leave dirty footprints on a painting’s surface (yes that really happened).
Then there’s the insurance, but not so easily. Art is fragile. Transporting it is high risk. Thus, not all insurers are interested in such risk and many don’t know all the nuances of art and its transport. Insurance companies underwrite the risk, but they usually don’t get involved in carrier selection, composing a movement schedule, and map out the logistics of its transport. They do, however, evaluate carriers, review the transportation schedule, monitor the artwork’s movement, and ensure that the quality will be consistent from beginning to end. This indirectly affects its value.
Transporting valuable art is a unique sector of supply chain and logistics. It’s a delicate operation and a specialty niche that requires close attention to detail, coordination among many different individuals and operations, as well as adhering to plenty of rules and legal obligations. Nonetheless, there is much promise in the transport of valuable art that remains untapped, and it is a growing sector within the supply chain industry.
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