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From Bern to São Paulo: how to ship a masterpiece

Crozier Switzerland and Swiss WorldCargo successfully coordinated the transportation of over one hundred works of artist Paul Klee from Switzerland to Brazil for the retrospective exhibition Equilibrio Instavel – Unstable Balance on behalf of the Zentrum Paul Klee.

The picture on the left shows the The rope-dancer (1923), one of the most famous works by Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940). The master of modernist painting described it as a metaphor of his own situation as an artist and as a human being. It could also be a metaphor for the fragility of his artworks, though – and of artworks in general – especially when they have to be transported by air cargo from one side of the world to the other.

The shipment of 123 of Klee’s artworks from the Zentrum Paul Klee (ZPK) in Bern, Switzerland to São Paulo, Brazil, for the first retrospective exhibition dedicated to the artist in South America, took the effort and seamless coordination by a team of art logistics experts. Inaugurated on February 13 in São Paulo, Equilibrio Instavel – Unstable Balance is a unique opportunity for Brazilian art lovers to admire Paul Klee’s works in three locations: São Paulo (February 13 to April 29), Rio de Janeiro (May 15 to August 12) and Belo Horizonte (August 28 to November 18).

Paintings, documents, prints and illustrations, as well as some of the artist’s personal objects carefully selected from the vast collection of the ZPK – which includes approximately 4000 pieces – give an insight into different phases and aspects of Klee’s life, work and thought.

Handle with (extreme) care

“All the works we selected reflect different aspects of an ‘unstable balance’: unstable balance of the pictorial composition, which is at the center of Klee’s Bauhaus theory, but also of the human condition and society throughout history, including Brazil’s current situation,” explains Fabienne Eggelhofer, Chief Curator of the exhibition and Head of the ZPK Research Collection Department.

The artist experimented with different techniques and used extremely light sensitive colors, paints and papers which make his works especially fragile. If you think that to prevent damage the works at the ZPK have to go through “periods of rest” in a depository every six months, can you imagine how much care is required when it comes to transporting them by air? “Most of the works are on paper and framed in three different frame sizes,” Eggelhofer explains. “Some of them are so fragile that they could only be transported either in a horizontal or a sloping position.”

 That is why the choice of highly specialized logistics partner is essential: “Our logistics partners must be open minded and interested in finding special solutions for each work,” she says. “The staff has to be flexible and solution-orientated, even in difficult and unforeseen situations, and must perform well under time pressure. Even if we try and plan every detail well in advance, there are often unforeseen issues that come up which have to be solved in a pragmatic way.”

A matter of seamless coordination

“The logistics coordination for the exhibition was entrusted to the company Crozier Switzerland (formerly known as Loomis Artcare, our logistics partner for the last 14 years),” Eggelhofer explains. “The continuity of the staff has allowed us to personally liaise with key experts and work in a climate of trust and confidence. Besides ensuring the perfect organization of custom papers and the overall seamless coordination of our exhibitions, Crozier Switzerland has an in-house carpentry workshop and creates custom crates for the works according to our needs.”

One of the challenges for this particular exhibition was the small size of the elevators and staircases at the three different venues in Brazil: “When we planned the crates, we had to make sure they were tailored to these dimensions. In this case we needed a larger number of smaller cases and were not able to combine two or three works in one crate as we usually do,” Eggelhofer says.

According to Barbara Schlagbauer, General Manager at Crozier Switzerland: “As for most exhibitions, the key critical success factor is to collaborate and communicate seamlessly with different parties across continents. For this project, we had to orchestrate the requirements of our key client and main partner in Switzerland – the Zentrum Paul Klee with the Brazilian organizer of the exhibition (Expomus) as well as liaise with the carefully selected Brazilian transport partner to ensure Klee’s precious works were transported safely and arrived undamaged. Given South America’s different climate conditions, as well as Brazilian particular customs regulations, it was crucial to work with a specialized local transport partner able to fulfill the needs of our clients.”

The small size of the elevators and staircases at the three different venues in Brazil were one one the main logistics challenges of this exhibition.

Paul Klee flies SWISS

Collaborating with a reliable air cargo carrier is also crucial: “To guarantee maximum safety, we had to make sure we avoided transfer flights, therefore we choose a direct flight from Zurich to Sao Paulo with SWISS.” Schlagbauer explains that the direct connection is not the only reason for choosing Swiss WorldCargo: “The cargo division of SWISS has a strong expertise in fine art transportation and we have had a long-standing relationship with them. They know our and the shipper’s requirements extremely well and allow us to oversee the unloading of the truck at the airport and the palletization of the crates in the cargo area. They also permit us to have full tarmac supervision until the pallet has been loaded on to the aircraft”.

Schlagbauer concludes: “Our client, ZKP, relies on us from beginning to the end to make such an exhibition a great success. Thus it is important for us to work and liaise with a trusted partner like Swiss WorldCargo with whom we know we are in good hands.”

“We are proud that we could contribute to sharing the Swiss arts heritage around the world. We have a strong footprint in the ever-growing niche of fine arts logistics, and we are constantly developing our capabilities in order to provide customized solutions to our customers,” concludes Milo Gerisch, Senior Manager Vertical Industry Precious, Luxury & Banking.

About Crozier Switzerland: Loomis Artcare became Crozier Switzerland on 1 May 2019, bringing together two world class art service providers from North America and Europe to provide unprecedented international coverage. Established over 40 years ago, Crozier is the international leader in fine art storage and logistics services with 19 locations across 10 global markets. Further information at: crozierfinearts.com

About Zentrul Paul Klee:  Through its activities the Zentrum Paul Klee is established as the competence centre worldwide for the research and the communication of the life and work of Paul Klee, the history of its effect and other culturally relevant themes. It maintains an efficient and modern research infrastructure and develops distinctive proposals for exhibition and communication programs in accordance with scientific demands as well as the expectations of visitors of different age groups, biographical backgrounds and cultural interests. Further information at zpk.org