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Art Basel: the art of shipping

Behind the scenes with an art care logistics expert at one of the world’s most famous art fairs

Selecting the “best of the best” artworks for Art Basel Switzerland is a long and intense process. Ensuring that artworks get to Basel securely and on time is a huge challenge.

June is the most exciting time of the year in Basel, when the city is vibrating with tens of thousands of artists and arts lovers gathering from all over the world for Art Basel Switzerland, the modern and contemporary art world’s premier platform which has reached its 49th edition this year. For an art lover and art care logistics expert like me it’s double the excitement, because I cannot help but think about the huge efforts required to put on the show.

Fair-goers expect to see the best of the best that international artists have to offer and fair planners have to work very hard to fulfill that demand. Hundreds of modern and contemporary art galleries from around the world compete to gain a coveted space and go through the intense and strict selection of a jury of arts experts.

This year, 303 galleries, showcasing about 4000 artists, have won an exhibition spot. There are many other experts working behind the scenes, though. Getting all the artwork safely to the fair from every corner of the world takes the effort and seamless coordination among teams of air logistics experts. What kind of experts are required? What are the most crucial needs for the transportation of artworks? And what is the role of air cargo?

Basel Exhibition Center hosts the world’s largest art fair. (Picture: Courtesy Art Basel)

Specialisation and trust are key!

Be it a painting, a sculpture or an installation, every work of art is unique and irreplaceable. And so is every art shipment. Therefore galleries and art dealers only entrust the movement of their works of art to partners specialised in art care logistics. These include specialised forwarders, but also air cargo carriers with a strong focus on art care. Understanding how and in which condition an artwork can be transported – Customisation Understanding how and in which condition an artwork can be transported and handled is the first important step in the planning of a shipment. It is usually up to galleries to decide whether the works shall be carried by an on board courier or shipped as air freight in a crating – with or without a personal courier on board. But consulting a trusted logistics partner is of the essence for the final decision.

Personal trust relationships

In fact, even if shippers provide guidelines with the characteristics of their art works, some details may emerge that can bring along discrepancies which must be sorted in the course of the planning among all the partners. So personal trust relationships are key to success in the art shipping business. High value The value of an artwork can range from one thousand to hundreds of thousands of Swiss Francs. No gallery would entrust an artwork worth so much money to a “standard” forwarder. And of course, no forwarder would entrust it to a carrier which does not guarantee the highest security standards.

Time critical

Direct flights are always preferred to multiple legs, because multiple manipulations can be avoided and tarmac supervision at transit hubs can reduce the risks of damage or loss. This is not always possible, of course, in which case the choice of an airline with highly efficient and secure handling facilities at their main hub is key.

Highly sensitive

Customised handling procedures are also important due to the high sensitivity of artworks, especially paintings, which are very susceptible to vibrational forces and temperature changes, and require special handling care beyond an appropriate packaging and crating solutions.

The art of shipping

As I wandered around the exhibition halls of Messe Basel today. I was thrilled to find myself in front of the works of famous Manhattan gallery which I knew were flown in with a direct SWISS flight from JFK. Together with our customers, some of the world’s most renowned fine arts logistics providers, we have spent many hours finding the right solution to get them there, safely and on time. Isn’t logistics a form or art itself after all?

Swiss WorldCargo’s solutions for the arts business guarantee the highest security standards, ultra-fast acceptance and delivery times and secured space on the flights. As Switzerland’s home carrier, Swiss WorldCargo offers the asset of direct connections from and into Zurich and Geneva to our global network and every year a large number of art works are flown in and out of Switzerland for Art Basel.

Swiss WorldCargo is also one of the preferred partners for the sister fairs Art Basel Miami, Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Basel Buenos Aires, thanks to the new direct connection between Zurich and Buenos Aires operated by Edelweiss Air as of the Winter Timetable 2019.