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Transporting one-of-a-kind consignments: The craft of shipping artworks internationally

Shipping art is one of Swiss WorldCargo’s strong suits. Ensuring that artworks get around the globe safely and delivered to the customer on time is what Swiss WorldCargo is known for in the airfreight industry.

Together with our customers, some of the world’s most renowned fine arts logistics providers, we have shipped artwork to world-renowned trade fairs all over the world and served many prestigious galleries and museums, handling paintings, statues, sculptures and other art pieces.

Moving artwork internationally requires seamless coordination among logistics experts and air cargo carriers with a strong focus on art care. Swiss WorldCargo works with countless specialised fine art logistics service providers, whose highly trained teams are experts in handling art of every shape and size. These specialised freight forwarders consult galleries, museums and art dealers on the most suitable way of transport for their works of art. Understanding how and under which conditions an artwork can be transported and handled is the first important step in the planning of this type of shipments. 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. Consulting a trusted logistics partner is critical for the final decision.

In an effort to introduce you to the exciting world of fine art shipping, we interviewed Dietl International – one of the largest providers of specialised logistics services entirely devoted to fine art logistics in the United States. Dietl International ships artworks for customers active in all different sectors of the art world, including museums, galleries, auction houses, institutions, and private collectors, and handles the shipping of artworks to around 40 art fairs globally. Dietl International’s Teams rely on  Swiss WorldCargo to ensure the art they are shipping is delivered to its final destination safely and on time.   

Fine art – a delicate category of goods with special shipping requirements

Shipping artwork is different from shipping other types of goods.  Art logistics is very delicate, a process that calls for full attention to details from all parties involved. Freight consignments are unique pieces of high value, are extremely fragile and have very special shipping requirements. Whether it’s a contemporary artwork made of delicate and rare materials or an old master’s painting, the complexities in the artwork’s variable sizing, value, fragility, and physical composition add to the challenge of moving it around the world safely. Each shipment requires a bespoke level of services and solid knowledge that encompasses all facets of the shipping industry.  Because of the nature of the goods, the requirements on how to ship a specific work can change daily, based on the clients’ and artists’ needs. Therefore, flexibility as a freight forwarder and the willingness to customise shipping solutions are key to ensuring that the art arrives at its destination in its original condition.

Well protected for the journey thanks to the expertise of all parties involved

Artwork requires expert handling for safe transport. Thanks to the joint effort of multiple stakeholders along the logistics chain addressing challenges around packaging, storage, transport, and customs, the valuable assets are protected and safely delivered.  Clients such as Dietl International have a network of crate shops and art handlers around the world with decades of knowledge on how to pack and crate an artwork so that it can travel safely. It’s rare that any two artworks have the same packing requirements. Packaging solutions need to be designed to perfectly fit the shape of each artwork along the entire move, but also to comply with ideal storage and preservation conditions. The supervisors and staff in the office, as well as on-site representatives travelling with the artwork, monitor each step of the process from courier assistance, air/ocean/road transport and customs clearance. As personal relationships based on trust are key to success in the art shipping business, it’s imperative to maintain good working relationships with all industry professionals.

The role of air cargo in fine art transportation

Air transportation is the fastest way to deliver art worldwide and plays a vital role in the journey of artworks around the world. When it comes to shipping artwork as airfreight, direct flights are always preferred over multiple legs, because through the direct route multiple manipulations can be avoided, whereas with layovers the lack of proper tarmac supervision at transit hubs can lead to increased risks of damage or loss. Evidently, this is not always possible; in this scenario then the choice of an airline with highly efficient and secure handling facilities at its main hub is fundamental

Swiss WorldCargo provides excellent service for Dietl year-round, but especially during the Art Basel fair season.  With supply chain issues challenging operations daily, finding reliable carriers to deliver the freight to the art fairs and international exhibitions on time is not just a request from clients; it is a requirement. Exactly, for this reason, air cargo plays a vital role in Dietl’s day-to-day operations.

 As a matter of fact, Dietl had 20 last-minute rush shipments on SwissWorld Cargo to the Art Basel fair this past June, and each one made it to the fair on time and according to the planned booking schedule. This wouldn’t have been possible without the high level of reliable service provided by Swiss WorldCargo.