How to ship a masterpiece

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Spring is the season for supersized art events: the Venice Biennale and Frieze’s New York edition are soon upon us, and Art Basel launches in late June. Pavilions, tents, halls, and booths brim with artworks modern and contemporary, gargantuan and miniscule, material and immaterial. Fairgoers and biennialists alike come for love, money, or both, but few think about how all this cultural production actually got there.

The art-transport industry remains an unglamorous logistics service, still nearly invisible to art connoisseurs even as the art world expands. The number of art museums in the United States alone has grown to 3,500 and the number of art fairs went from 68 in 2005 to 269 in 2015.

Considering that museum exhibitions are increasingly complex and spectacle-driven, that the world’s 100-odd biennials often feature 50 or more artists, and the big art fairs see nearly 300 exhibiting galleries, each with piles of work for sale, the sheer masses of art coming from storage depots, collector’s homes, galleries or studios in a given year is mindboggling. But how exactly does artwork get from its many points of origin to its designated destinations?

On the high end are the professionals. Hundreds of logistics companies worldwide specialise in art shipping – some of the largest and oldest among them are Crown Fine Arts and Momart in the UK, Hasenkamp in Germany, Baltrans in Hong Kong and Dietl in the United States. These companies make sure that art travels securely – which, because works can be fragile and opportunities for error many, is no easy feat.

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