Shipping Paintings

Several paintings I’ve worked on in recent months are being shipped overseas for an International exhibition in Paris.‘Le Corps Decouvert’ opens at l’Institut du Monde Arabe March 27th to July 15th 2012. The human form in Middle Eastern Art is nothing new, this exhibition is thought provoking, enticing and long over due.
From the point of view of shipping the collection from Beirut to Paris the process is tense with detail, timing and handling issues.
The whole handling process for any loan is fraught with risk, usually dealt with by authoritative and expert Registrars. Where an Institution does not have trained overseers and negotiators then it is up to staff to learn as much as possible about procedures for the packing, shipping and handling of fine art cargo.
Much has been written on materials for packing and handling, it is a well developed field, look online for materials and techniques and again most International Fine Art Shippers will provide information online. What you do have to be aware of is that often International Fine Art Shippers often sub-contract the job to small shipping companies whose job it is to ship a nations exports be it coal or tinned tomatoes. Fine art is just another cargo earning money for them. Therefore, dear Courier, beware. Know what YOU need to know and be prepared to fight for your right to be heard.
It helps if Curators are up to scratch with procedures and to make every effort to learn what these are. Similarly for Conservators and any other staff who are called upon to travel with the objects. It is a privilege to travel as a Courier but is not for the feint hearted.
Professional Fine Art Shippers are the first contact most Couriers will experience for the packing and are beholden to them for instruction as to procedure. In places where shipping and packing are down to general practitioners whose cargo is cars, timber and tinned tomatoes then getting them to understand that paintings are fragile may require more than just a phone call outlining what a painting is. Make personal contact with the shipper if nothing else and explain the nature of the material.
If the Courier is unsure of the process then asking the shippers is the only way to proceed.
I have my own experience of many years being a Courier to draw on. Working through a major organisation with an International reputation such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London I learned the processes at a high level. I learned to appreciate the work of the Registar who understands implications of the international law pertaining to export and import, customs and airfreight. They see the dangers, have had them assessed and work to high standards.
Some Fine Art Shipping Companies work to the same standards, handle the paper work and take the Courier through each stage.
Insist on the best for your cargo, do not let shipping agents take the objects days or weeks or days ahead of schedule just because it is convenient for them.
Minimise the time the objects are out of your sight – ok, they’re in the cargo hold of the aircraft now but where were you when they were put there and where will you be when they are removed?
Get the shippers to liaise and get the appropriate passes for you, the Courier, to accompany the cargo into Customs and beyond.
Momart an international Fine Art Shipping Agent has produced a booklet ‘Airport Courier Training’. It is short and sweet and outlines most of what the Courier needs to know if there is no one else to tell them.
‘Courierspeak’ by Cordelia Rose is a useful multilingual phrase book. Just reading one or two phrases alerts you to the world awaiting the Courier – ‘Ask the forklift truck driver not to lift the cases so high, please’ – ‘It is too unsafe and dirty to unpack the cases here’ – ‘This is the top’ .
The book is in English; French; Dutch; Spanish; Japanese and Greek. The Middle East is now a serious contender in the world of Fine Art and I would like to see a new edition with an Arabic translation too.
If you look at any Museum functioning at an International level they will have produced a set of Loan in/out guidelines, these are more than helpful when you do not have your own department to organise things.
The British Library website has a set of points which most of the worlds lenders and borrowers would do well to read – clear and succinct for the expert and novice alike.
Let those pirouetting fork lift trucks know you are there and watching them, they automatically slow down.
The world of loans is not slowing down, take heed Collections and Couriers alike.