Five Tips to Protect Art in Transit

Michelle ImpeyBefore buying that next Picasso, plan ahead to ensure that it will be properly packed, shipped, and insured.

As the attention of the art world moves from the New York-based auctions in November to Art Basel Miami Beach in December, collectors need to consider how they are getting their new acquisitions safely home.

With the expansion of the global art market, the number of art fairs has nearly quadrupled in the past decade1. The sheer volume of art in transit increases the risk of improper handling and accidental damage. Specialized art shippers will be in high demand over the next few weeks, and buyers may be tempted to use standard shipping companies instead.

Here are the top five steps that collectors should take to protect artwork at every stage of transit.

  1. Hire Professionals with Expertise in Packing and Shipping Art
    Never hire a general household mover to pack your valuable collection. An experienced art packer will assess the fragility, medium, condition, and size of each piece to determine the appropriate packing method. The mode of transit, travel distance, and value of your piece will also be important considerations.
  2. Verify Quality of Ground Transportation Vehicles
    Trucks or vans should be climate-controlled and fitted with air-ride suspension systems that reduce the risk of damage from shocks, vibrations, and sudden stops. They should also be equipped with GPS tracking/security alarms. To ensure that the vehicle is never left unattended, the vehicle should be staffed with two drivers/art handlers.
  3. Beware of Sub-Contractors
    Ask if sub-contractors will be hired, and make sure that a reputable sub-contractor will be handling your valuables.
  4. Confirm Shipment Route
    Ask if the shipment will be direct, or if stops will be made along the way. If there will be stops, confirm that your artwork will be properly secured. For high-valued items, request exclusive use of the truck or ask that items be placed on the truck last and come off first. For international shipments, choose air, not sea, to reduce the article’s travel time and potential exposure to harmful environmental conditions. When possible, choose art shippers who are certified by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to inspect and officially seal art during the packing/crating process.
  5. Request a Condition Report
    A condition report should be completed before and after delivery. The condition report should include a detailed description, high-resolution photographs, and documentation of any pre-existing damage.

fine art paintingsEven if you hire a qualified fine art packer/shipper and follow the steps outlined above, don’t rely on the insurance coverage provided by the fine art packer/shipper. The standard limit of liability in the transit business is only 60 cents a pound. If you ship a 10-pound painting valued at $1 million, the shipping company will likely only cover up to $6 of damage. Instead, choose a valuables policy that provides worldwide coverage for items in transit.


Michelle Impey is Assistant Vice President – Fine Art & Collections Manager for Chubb Personal Risk Services’ Risk Consulting Group.


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