EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW
A unique collection deserves the attention and knowledge of experts. For example, how do you pack a painting for shipping? Or ship a large statue or canvas? What’s the best way to ship framed artwork? Art transportation is more complicated than you might think, and these are just a few questions that frequently occur to those who need art transportation. As experienced collectors know, it’s not like you can just wrap it and put in the trunk to take home – there are some important rules to keep in mind when it comes to art transportation. This article explains these rules and gives you tips for hiring professional help.
WHY IT’S WORTH HIRING PROFESSIONALS
Potential damage to your artwork can occur in many forms: from small spots through moderate deformation to complete ruination. Keeping your valuable objects safe can be rather expensive, and you want to keep costs as low as possible. However, general moving companies most likely lack the tools, skills and training needed to safely complete such a process.
In an interview with artnet News, fine art specialist Laura Doyle of Chubb Insurance recalled an instance when ordinary movers handled a 9th-century Indian sculpture of a Hindu god. “It was an elephant and they ended up picking it up by the trunk – which would have been the weakest point of the piece. The trunk broke off the face and they actually threw it away. So we couldn’t even try to have the piece restored.”
You could also go with the DIY approach. But if you attempt to move or stage any objects yourself, there is a high chance of your art falling victim to accidents resulting from amateur handling. You could even injure yourself as well as your art if you try to handle heavy objects on your own.
Fine art that’s survived for centuries deserves to be passed on. And you’ve spent time and money curating your collection; you don’t want that to be in vain because of some avoidable mistake. Depending on the value of your artwork or collection, it is wise to consult an art handler. Make sure that the company working with your artwork is able and qualified for the job.
As a collector, you know that we’re not talking about objects passed along a conveyor belt: each piece of art is the product of the unique work of a talented individual. And the value of art goes beyond its material value: there is a cultural importance to consider as well. That’s why the majority of institutions and collectors hire experts for transporting, packing and installing art. Below you’ll find the main reasons why you should join their ranks.
1. PROFESSIONALS KNOW HOW TO SHIP EACH OBJECT ACCORDING TO ITS NEEDS
Oil paintings require different packing supplies than prints, and sculptures need different handling than glass objects. Ordinary wrapping materials for shipping and delivery are inadequate for any of these – art transportation needs proper packaging. Reliable art transportation services equip their teams with specialized kits (tools, gloves, glassine paper, foam pads, corrugated sheets for custom soft packing of an artwork, bubble wrap etc.) that help them make sure no harm comes to any piece of art. Whether you’re moving an oil painting down the block or taking a thousand-pound sculpture to a gallery across the Pacific, it’s imperative that the proper resources are put to use in the right way.
2. ART TRANSPORTATION SERVICES HAVE THE TOOLS FOR STAGING AND HANDLING
Shipping may be the longest step, but art transportation is like hang gliding – the closer you are to your goal, the more careful you should be. Staging it is the final objective. Just as specific tools are needed for moving, specialized gear is used for installation. The experts have it all: hooks, anchors, cables, screws, wires, clamps, z-clips and even lamps, so they are prepared for every situation. Sure, you can buy all this at Home Depot, Lowes or any hardware store, but if you get them directly from the experts, you’ll know that you have the right ones for your installation.
3. REAL PROFESSIONALS RECEIVE TRAINING SO THEY KNOW EXACTLY HOW TO INSTALL ARTWORK PROPERLY
There are no two identical walls – especially in New York City – and each has several variables to take into account. How much weight can your wall handle? Can the surface be drilled into? These are just two of the questions you don’t want anyone assuming the answers to. Good installers will have the perfect equipment for everything from drywall to original brick. And don’t forget potential ceiling installations or pedestal placement, which can add extra pieces to a puzzle that DIYers and regular movers may not be equipped to handle. A reputable company will send highly-trained handlers to assess the needs of the art and the space.
4. ART TRANSPORTATION COMPANIES CAN HANDLE LARGE OBJECTS
Artists can’t be constrained by mere door and window size. Unfortunately, this results in headaches for those who appreciate their work. But large installations shouldn’t pose a challenge for a real team of experts. Consider a massive painting – they must be able to take the frame apart without harming the canvas or the frame, then roll up the canvas, package it, and after moving, reassemble the paining in its original form. But these aren’t even the most complicated tasks; a quality art transportation company can move even the most fragile and abstract sculpture without a scratch.
5. A QUALITY ART TRANSPORTATION COMPANY CAN BUILD YOU A SOPHISTICATED DISPLAY
As we mentioned, installing and staging artwork goes way beyond simply hanging pictures on the wall. You can have the most thoroughly selected collection in the world, but it won’t look suitable if not displayed properly. Most institutions and collectors already know how they want their pieces arranged. But a real expert in art transportation and handling is always able to provide useful tips and ideas if a client needs them. They can also take unforeseen technical issues, like nonstandard stud spacing, in stride. Exceptional companies will be able to combine both transportation and installation design. They’ll work with you from the beginning to fully realize your creative vision.
What does a good art transportation company offer?
You don’t want to trust just anyone with who shows up with a handful of brick hangers and a truck. Make sure your prospective partner has plenty of positive references and their staff is communicative and experienced. You don't want to trust a man with a van who shows up unprepared.
They must only use superior packing materials. And a good art transportation company uses all available technology to keep the artwork entrusted to them secure. With proper GPS tracking, for example, a good company never loses a box. But their services should also include video surveillance and alarm systems which can even be installed on individual boxes.
Their trucks should have proper suspension and two drivers on board. The climate inside should be controlled to maintain a consistent temperature to prevents damage to fragile materials. They should offer both dedicated services (without any stops) and shuttle services, which are typically cheaper and combine several shipments on the truck for an economical solution. There's also general freight such as FedEx or UPS. If you feel that your artwork is not being handled correctly, let the company know of your concerns.
But if you still decide to do it by yourself…
Even though it is highly recommended that you get professional help when it comes to art transportation, situations might occur when you simply cannot rely on anybody but yourself. So here are a couple of things that are best kept in mind if you have to confront an art handling situation by yourself.
According to Saatchi Art, “all artworks that are 48 inches or above on any one side need to be packaged into a wood crate.”
Remove any hooks used for hanging before packing.
Catalogue the artwork before you start wrapping it, make a condition report. Take photos of each piece’s current state. Are they scratched? Do they have any spots on them?
Wrap pieces of art in materials which help prevent condensation. Use glassine only (never regular paper), and after that polyethylene. You can also use foam to prevent damage or piercings in the event something sharp touches the exterior packing. But keep in mind never to use dyed ropes and ties.
Never wrap paintings directly in bubble wrap. Use glassine first then poly and foam core, and only after that comes the bubble wrap. Use custom corrugated sheets, which are precisely cut in a shape of a box designed for the dimension of the artwork.
Don’t reuse wrapping material if possible. Buying new material for each move may be a bit costly, but this way you can prevent one piece of art “contaminating” the other with fragments of paint or dust.
Wooden crates: make sure they are properly decontaminated and dehumidified. Wood for crating must be heat treated and stamped with ISPM15 (which is a must when exporting).
Do you have to travel by car? Clean the area where you put the artwork so it is safe from objects that might fall on it. Always prepare the climate of the car accordingly: if it's hot outside, cool it before you put in the artwork – in cold climates, the vehicle should be preheated.
International shipping: it is very likely that the package will travel under other heavy objects. Experts never advise to ship artworks internationally just in a box. Crating is the only way, otherwise it'll be destroyed by the time it arrives.
Insurance is especially important for international shipping. Most consider shipping artwork an obligatory risk they have to take from time to time. They insure their pieces – and then hope that no harm will come to them. According to Robert Pittinger, senior vice president and director of underwriting at AXA Art Americas Corporation "in the event of damage, an insurance policy pays out in one of two ways: Either the policy will pay a set, agreed-upon amount determined by the insurer and the collector in advance, or the policy will pay out based on the work’s current market value. Collectors opting for the predetermined payout structure may do so for a number of reasons, including peace of mind so that they wouldn’t have to worry about substantiating the value of the works in the case of damage. Agreed value can also move up and down over the life of a policy if the collector decides to get the work reassessed." So make sure you have documentation of the value of the piece. Some kind of insurance is obligatory for every serious move – unless you hire real experts for the job. They’ll carry their own insurance, saving you another headache.
Canvases up to 72”x72” can be removed from its stretchers, rolled, and transported in a strong mailing tube. Make certain that your artwork is dry before packing it.
Put your painting between two pieces of acid free paper. The canvas should be completely covered.
Roll the paper-covered artwork around the smaller tube with paint side outward to provide inner support. But don't do it too tightly because you can ruin the painting.
Wrap bubble wrap around the painting. Seal it with tape.
Fill the space at the ends of the outer mailing tube with extra bubble wrap. Put the cap on and fix it with packing tape.
Mark the package as fragile.
Before packing, make sure that the canvas is fastened to the frame.
If a frame looks unstable, take out the canvas and pack the frame separately.
Never use towels or blankets to pack paintings because the fabric can scratch the uneven surface of the painting.
Find a bigger box than the painting with three inches free all around.
Use tissue paper and, after that, bubble wrap to pack the painting.
Put some packing peanuts inside the box to keep the frame from shaking while being moved. Fill up all free space around the wrapped painting with packing peanuts or foam.
Before packing, check that there are no loose parts that could damage the artwork while being moved.
The key part when wrapping art is not to use too much tape. The idea is to create a packing road map for the person who will unpack the artwork. If you can show where to take the tape off and where the front and back of the art is the person receiving it will be able to unpack without damaging.
Wrap the bubble wrap around the upper part of the sculpture twice. Use tape to fix it. Then do the same at the bottom half of the piece. Make sure the middle parts are wrapped, too.
It's best to properly crate the piece and make sure that there is one-two layers of foam on each side of the interior of the crate. Depending on the object, packing the crate with bubble or padding or blankets is recommended unless the sculpture needs unique stabilization within the crate, which is made by cutting additional wood beams to stabilize it.
What can still go wrong and what to watch out for
The most ridiculous things can go wrong when shipping art. In an article published by the Surface Design Association, the quiltmaker Patricia Malarcher talks about a close deadline: “UPS assured me that a week was enough time to get the quilt to Texas, where the show would be assembled and sent overseas. I packed my piece in a reusable Sonotube, sent it off via UPS, and 2 days later, it was delivered—to my own front door! When the tube had been returned from a previous show, I’d neglected to remove the shipping label so that’s what was scanned at the dispatching center. Fortunately, I managed to curb my panic, and re-sent the package via FedEx’s overnight service. The lesson learned—when re-using a box or container, remove or cover up any addresses or bar codes from previous use—came at a very high price.”
Luckily, it’s hard to damage a quilt. Unfortunately, collectors of decorative objects and paintings aren’t so lucky. So always get an official condition report before you hand over your pieces to the experts handling it. It's recommended to do so prior to transportation and once again after the items have been received, just to make sure that there are no changes in the collection. And find out if any third-party shippers or other contractors will be involved. The art transportation company you’re hiring may not be doing the actual transit, especially over long distances or internationally. Many companies contract with third parties. It’s vital that you are clearly informed if that is the case. Check with your art transportation partner that the third party has proper business values and well-trained employees. Get a clear answer of who would be responsible if any mistakes occurred during third-party handling.
Some artists like to experiment with different materials. Think of Marc Quinn’s pictures painted in his own blood, or the shark Hirst immersed in formaldehyde. Everyone knows an expert team is imperative for these extremely complicated cases. But not just for them!
Art is just too valuable to risk its safety – it’s the product of artistic endeavors which are unique and irreplaceable. So when packing, moving, or shipping precious art, always remember: true professionals may be expensive, but amateurs and general moving companies are more costly in the end.
Do you have some tips of your own? Please share them along with this article!