Good collection management starts with detailed planning and execution of art transportation, storage and installation. It is not easy to ship paintings and other artworks: let's go through the steps to consider before buying.
Of all the elements of good collection care, the minutiae of shipping, storage, and installation might be the ones furthest removed from general collector knowledge, and also interest. When we see art works in museums, galleries, or art fairs, they are (hopefully) well installed and look often both weightless and - due to the large nature of many exhibition spaces - also relatively small. Mostly, these spaces bare no resemblance to the environment of a collector’s home. Usually, collectors do not see the work that goes into this seemingly effortless display: the weeks and months of sea shipping of large containers, the sometimes complex import declarations and endless paperwork filled in by experienced shipping agents, the extensive loading bays large scale museums or art fairs have, and the hours or sometimes days and amount of labour and sweat involved to install a complicated installation or to figure out how a wall could bare the weight of a painting by, let’s say, Anselm Kiefer. We also barely see the experienced technicians who make all this possible and are often not aware of the decades of experience that goes into being a good art handler. Nor do we contemplate that these labourers are often also artists themselves.
However, ensuring artwork is handled appropriately is probably one of the most important tasks for collectors when aiming to ensure the art works in their collection retain their value. The following bullet points list only a few of the areas to be aware of and to look out for. They are meant not to replace expertise by professional but to encourage to involve professional, recognised, and reputable shippers and transport agents right from the start of the journey of an artwork. If you are starting out working with shippers, you might want to look if they are registered with either ICEFAT (https://icefat.org/) or Artim (https://artim.org/), the two leading art shipping associations operating worldwide.
Think before you buy
It might sound simple but do ensure the work you consider purchasing fits not only aesthetically in your planned environment but also physically. For paintings that might refer to wall space but also to access areas such as width of doorways, entrance halls, lifts etc. Many works have been returned to galleries because they could just not fit into the home of the buyer. For sculptures weight might be an issue; floor loading capacity as much as for garden sculptures the right ground to sit on. Asking about the detailed measurements including frames and other installation questions before committing to a purchase is not an embarrassment but shows the seriousness of engagement.
If purchasing a work from an auction house be aware that often storage charges occur right after the auction. The speedy arrangement of shipping is therefore very important. Make sure you are also aware if there are any taxes on the work to be purchased and if it is in free circulation at the point and place of purchase. Nowadays, many art works auctioneered are only in a country on a temporary import licence and additional charges might apply if keeping the work in the country permanently.
On the other hand, when buying a work from a gallery it might be useful to see if shipping can be included in the purchase price. If you are not in a rush the gallery might find a safe and cheap way to get the work to you and might also be happy to oversee the installation of the work, especially if you are not experienced. Collectors often only think of a sales discount, but sometime adding services can be much more useful when negotiating a purchase. For any purchase, discuss how long a work is insured with the seller. Is it until it hangs on your wall or only until it leaves the seller’s premises? Do ensure that the work is well covered during transport.
Insure your artwork during transport
Most accidents to artwork happens during transit because artists do not think about the way their work can be shipped when creating it. It is for this reason that shippers – and that includes art shippers as much as general shipping companies such as FedEx or DHL etc. have only a very limited liability for damages occurring. Be aware who covers transit insurance and if it is your responsibility. The last thing you want is for a work to arrive damaged and you not being in any position to reclaim your loss.
Know where you want it to go and install straight away
When you buy a work think about where it will go and ensure you have the space and the right conditions for it. Prepare the area so that when the work arrives you can install it straight away. Otherwise, it might sit in a corner for years and transit packaging is often not the right packaging for permanent storage. Speaking of storage – if you plan on only holding a work (maybe for investment reasons), ensure it is stored safely. Both in regards of theft but also other risks such as humidity or flooding. If you don’t keep the work in a safe environment your insurance might be void if it gets damaged. Art shippers often offer permanent storage facilities you can rent, ranging in size from very small spaces to full collection storage facilities.
Be aware of the costs
Often shippers have a bad reputation for charging high prices. However, one has to be aware how much effort goes into transporting an art work safely. As mentioned above, time for right paperwork complying to import and export regulations and duties, adequate and safe packaging, careful handling, and often climate-controlled transport vehicles all add to the cost of shipping. This however does not mean you should pay anything. Make sure you go to three shippers and get competitive quotes – based on the correct information of course, there is no point in trying to hide the size or fragility of a work to get the costs down; pricing is always based on the end result and the actual transport. Time often is an issue. It is more expensive to have a dedicated van going from Berlin to Munich [replaced with art capitals in relevant countries] than waiting for a regular route. If you buy an artwork in the US and want it in Europe the costs of sea freight are a fraction of air freight – but it takes longer. There is also a question of the relationship between the value of the work and its transport costs. If you buy a painting for 500 Euro from an artist, let’s say in Africa or India, it’s probably best to hope it will arrive safely with a generic shipper such as FedEx as otherwise the transport costs would far exceed the value of the work. But if you spend 100,000 Euro or more on a work you want to ensure the quality of the transport is as high as possible. Many shippers use subcontractors, and you might want to ensure that this isn’t happening as it increases the risk to your work. But remember – a general courier is not an art shipper and won’t treat you work with care.
As Hans-Ewald Schneider, director of the German transport company Hasenkamp puts it succinctly: [“Billig kann sehr teuer werden”] “Cheap can become very expensive” In a conversation with the author Schneider laments the mentality of art buyers who have no issue to spend a lot of money on a work of art but do not understand why the logistics of artworks subsequently might cost money. It is important, in his opinion, to advice clients honestly and thoroughly. This takes time and trust is important to establish a good relationship. That also goes for insurance brokers and risk takers. A low premium is not always a good insurance.
Be aware of the legal side
Shipping artwork has a lot to do with laws. Different countries have very different regulations about the import and export of works of art, and they are not only related to taxes and duties. If you buy a work and want to move it to another country, you need to be sure it is legal to take it out of the country. Many countries now have complex cultural heritage protection laws, and you need to ensure you are compliant with these. Exporting a work of art illegally out of a country is a crime and not something you want to become involved in. Also do pay your duties and taxes. Not declaring the true nature or value of an artwork when you import or export it is not recommended: it is not safe, and also illegal. Working with a good shipper with extensive tax departments will help you ensure that everything you do is above board. It is important to know this also applies if you move the work from one country to another without trying to sell it. If you, for example, want to install a work in your holiday home in Switzerland, you need to declare its import.
Last, but not least – the environment
For years now campaigners have been fighting the worldwide travel of art works and the often environmentally damaging single-use packaging materials used in the transport of art works. Environmentally conscious collectors might want to think how their collection care and purchase can reduce its impact on the environment. This might in the extreme mean to buy artworks as locally as possible but also to be aware of how sustainable shipping companies address their carbon footprint. Companies such as Hasenkamp have been leading in the reduction of their carbon footprint for many years. Since 2003, Hasenkamp is using sustainable sources for the heating of their facilities. This includes sustainable ways to temperature control their warehouses, but also the possibility to reuse packaging and to offer for example rental crates rather than one of bespoke wooden crates but can’t be reused for other works. If price isn’t the determining factor in the way you want to ship your art works, sustainability might.
Art works need a lot of care during their lifetime and transport, storage and installation are a key aspect of it. Try and find a shipping company that you trust. Be aware of what is important to you – a safe but no-frills approach or a high level of additional services such as advice on where and how to install works, easy way to contact them and maybe the use of storage facilities. Schneider points out how complex regulations and the need for additional advice for their clients are today. The more you are aware of your needs the easier it will be to find the right logistic company for you and ensure that your art objects look as best as they can when they find their spot in your home.
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