Most artwork is static. Consequently, when art is moved—either within a gallery or collection, or between sites—the level of risk shoots up. There are dozens of famous examples of artwork being lost, stolen, or damaged while in transit—from
’sUntitled Oil Painting (1960s) in 2000 by handlers at Sotheby’s who mistook its box for an empty crate.
Yet statistically, most artwork, according to insurance figures, suffers smaller and more frequent instances of low-level damage during shipment, representing about 60% of art damage claims. Consequently, a professional—and sometimes secretive—network of shipping experts has arisen to provide services for galleries, institutions, and collectors. Moving art may be risky, but it is also a vital part of the art world’s ecosystem—allowing us access to work outside our own localities. Because art market participants range widely from individual collectors, art dealers, and private galleries to ultra-high-net-worth collectors and massive institutional buyers, the world of art shipping has become equally diverse: One can ship art through the postal system or under armed guard.
“Understandably, shipment networks (and businesses) have grown and specialized over time,” said Jonathan T.D. Neil, associate professor of art business and arts management at Drucker School of Management, Claremont Graduate University. Neil divides the market for moving art into “shipping” and “handling” and remarked upon the different actors involved in the process: “There are certain companies one will use for international shipping because they understand the tax and customs regimes better than local or merely national companies. ‘Handling’ is a different story, and still operates something like a guild with junior apprentices and senior handlers who run the show with the big shippers and institutions. Further down the ladder, it’s very much a free-for-all, with artists (and art students) providing handling services to galleries and one another because they are the ones that deal with artmaking at its heart.”
Art shipment has historically been a relatively decentralized industry, often run by those involved in other areas of the art market. Recently, there have been attempts to highlight efforts at ethical art shipment practices. ARTA, a fine art logistics and technology company, released a report in 2020 on emissions linked to the art shipment industry. The report suggests that collectors monitor their carbon footprint through a simple equation that can estimate carbon dioxide emissions and also opt for sea and train freight over air travel when possible. (Full disclosure: Artsy Shipping is powered by ARTA.)
Collectors should also be aware of labor practices in the art shipment market. Neil pointed out that efforts should be made to increase pay and opt for professional services in what has historically been a precarious labor market. “[The nature of art shipment] keeps costs low for the capital-strapped sectors of the art world, but this isn’t good for the artists or other contingent labor that does this essential work,” he said. “At some point, training, credentialization, and professional associations (if not unionization) will help to shore up art handling labor and wages.”
On a practical level, collectors should take into account various factors when looking for the right art shipment service: from the value of their artwork and its dimensions, to the distance it’s being moved across, to whether or not it’s traveling internationally.
Meredith Blechman, head of marketing and partnerships at ARTA, noted some of the main categories to be aware of when looking to ship art. “The material, size, and weight of an artwork have a critical role in determining optimal packing and transport method,” she said. “For example, you can’t simply soft pack a sculpture—they tend to be heavy and/or fragile and require specific packaging. A print might be fine to soft pack for transport, but if it’s traveling internationally or via sea freight, it will require additional packing to ensure it is not damaged.”
Blechman went on to explain that the different elements found in a piece can affect a collector’s choice of shipment. “Depending on the item’s size, value, weight, and fragility, it is certainly possible to ship art via a common courier like FedEx. The key is to ensure proper packing when shipping with these carriers,” she explained. “That being said, artwork that is extremely heavy, oversized, fragile, or a number of other variables might prohibit the ability to ship via common courier or would cause us to recommend against shipping in any method other than fine art transport.” The shipping services that Artsy provides via ARTA take such variables into account to calculate shipping quotes and offer the safest and most appropriate packaging and transport options for a given artwork.
Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Atelier 4, a fine arts logistics company based in New York, offered a rule of thumb to help collectors figure out what shipment method will work best. Generally, collectors can choose services that meet two of the following three options: good, fast, and cheap. “If you have something of value or incredible fragility, you pick ‘good’ and ‘fast,’” he said. “This means a fine art logistics specialist…[and] climate control trucks, warehouses, appropriate packing, and appropriate equipment.”
Schwartz continued: “When the value begins to decrease, and the challenges of handling become easier, you can move down to ‘good’ and ‘cheap.’ This is less specialized, but still [involves] good packing and handling by professionals.…If replacement value is of no concern, [opt for] ‘fast’ and ‘cheap’—box it, [organize] parcel delivery, and track it online.” Indeed, Neil boiled down the diversity of shipment options to the two ends of the spectrum: “At the high end, it’s all safety (risk management), and at the low end, it’s all efficiency (cost control).”
One overlooked aspect of art shipment is the complex arena of insurance. Many home and institutional insurance policies do not stretch to cover art in transit. “Insurance policies have exclusions around art transport or coverage of art when it’s not in the home,” said Blechman. “If a buyer is relying on their own policy to mitigate risk while artwork is in transit, it is important to understand if a work is covered and under what circumstances.” Schwartz suggested that one should “consult an insurance agent that has experience with tangible assets, like art, and have them advise you on what sort of coverage you should have.…If you’re lending to a museum or gallery, make sure you have a loan form and that it covers you consistent with the language on your own policy or better.”
Ultimately, how a collector chooses to ship art is defined by multiple competing factors. The increasing professionalization, specialization, and digitization of the art shipment industry means that now more than ever, the perfect ratio between risk and efficiency can be found.
paints herself in profile, pipe in mouth, legs spread wide, right hand placed firmly on her knee. Playing with the archetypal image of a male artist in his studio, Rego asserts her right to sit alongside them in the canon.
Rego, who turns 87 in late January, is today recognized as one of the leading artists of her generation, celebrated for her darkly ambiguous worksthat draw on a dizzying array of sources ranging from folklore and fairy tales to literature, theater, and personal experience. A major retrospective of Rego’s work, which gained rave reviews at Tate Britain and is now showing at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, reveals both the extraordinary range and ambition of her paintings, as well as her formidably courageous spirit. Rego’s work from the last 20 years can also be seen at Victoria Miro in London in her solo exhibition “The Forgotten,” on view until February 12th.
Paula Rego, The Artist in Her Studio, 1993. Courtesy of Leeds City Art Gallery and Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
Confronting abuses of power, while also exploring the complex desires and emotions that lurk beneath the surface of us all, has been the primary focus of Rego’s vast and eclectic oeuvre. Growing up under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, the artist was attuned to injustice, particularly against women, from an early age. Interrogation (1950), painted when Rego was only 15, shows a woman, head bowed in despair, sitting in front of her interrogators. One figure menacingly holds a drill while the other has a conspicuous bulge in his trousers. An allusion to the sexual torture so often inflicted on women, the work shows an awareness of the psychological impact of such abuse—a recognition almost disturbing for someone so young.
Sent to boarding school in England to escape Salazar’s oppressive regime, Rego would later attend the Slade School of Art in London, where she’d meet her future husband, the artist
in works which were unapologetically anti-regime and anti-clerical. In Salazar vomiting the homeland (1960), which features an abstracted male figure spewing yellow bile, Rego hurls her disdain for Salazar’s administration at the canvas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it proved so controversial that it was not publicly exhibited until 1972, two years after the dictator’s death.
A turning point in Rego’s life came after a series of personal tragedies. Her father died in 1966, and soon after, Willing was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In addition, her father’s company, now under Willing’s control, was facing collapse. These combined events caused Rego to plunge into depression and eventually seek the help of a Jungian psychoanalyst. Rego’s therapist encouraged her to explore in depth the fairy tales, myths, and biblical stories she had been surrounded with as a child, and which, according to Jungian thought, were a source of archetypal human behavioral patterns. Rego’s research into the origins of these tales—as well as favored illustrators as diverse as
-esque anthropomorphic canvases that play out frictions in Rego’s marriage. Therapy helped Rego realize that in Wife Cuts off Monkey’s Tale (1981), she was depicting her attempts to become independent from Willing, both as an artist and wife.
By the mid-1980s, Willing was entering the final stages of his illness. Tate curator Elena Crippa notes in the exhibition catalogue that this coincides with a major shift in Rego’s work, which takes on greater psychological depth and begins to use the body to express emotion. In the unsettling series “Girl and Dog” (1986), in which a young girl is seen toying with a dog in her care, Rego explores the complex emotions she experienced as her husband’s caretaker.
It is also at this time that her figures take on their familiar robust, sculptural quality. Surrounded by enigmatic symbolism and imagery, the characters in The Little Murderess (1987) and The Cadet and his Sister (1988) play out unsettling stories with conclusions that remain deliberately obscure.
Paula Rego, The Dance, 1988. Courtesy of the Tate and Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
Willing died in 1988, leaving her a letter in which he wrote, “I know you will paint even better. Trust yourself and you will be your own best friend.” Shortly after, Rego painted The Dance (1988), a nocturnal dreamlike composition in which her late husband appears twice: once, dancing with a woman who may be Rego, and again, with a woman who certainly isn’t (both Rego and Willing had affairs). To the left, a woman dances alone. Is this Rego embracing her new freedom? As in all her work, nothing is clear.
Certainly, she mourned his death. The 1994 series “Dog Women,” featuring women crouched and howling in animalistic poses, is seen as a raw expression of the grief Rego felt at the time. However, Laura Stamps, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, points out that the series—created in the pastels that would increasingly come to dominate Rego’s work—have also been read as an attack on patriarchal depictions of the female form, particularly in
’s pastel scenes. “He was a voyeur of the female body, and in this series, we are voyeurs of female emotion,” Stamps told Artsy. “She is confronting art history, forcing us to not only look at the exterior of women, but also at what they are experiencing.”
Paula Rego, The Little Murderess, 1987. Courtesy of the artist and Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
Female experience has been at the heart of Rego’s work in recent decades, most notably in her series of pastels created after the 1998 referendum that failed to legalize abortion in Portugal. The viscerally powerful series pointedly features women and girls from all walks of life curled in agony from the procedure or crouched over basins and towels, waiting for it to take effect. Such was their impact that the series is credited with helping a second referendum pass in 2007.
More recently, Rego has addressed human trafficking and female genital mutilation. Featuring masked characters and the soft sculptural figures that Rego has created since the 1970s, these provocatively theatrical compositions recall the works of
, drawing her audience in with a false sense of security before they are forced to realize the full horror of what they are witnessing.
Paula Rego, The Pillowman, 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Kunstmuseum Den Haag.
Horror of a very different sort is on display in The Pillowman (2004), inspired by the play of the same name by British playwright Martin McDonagh. Rego recognized a kindred spirit in McDonagh, whose macabre tale shows the title character transporting people back to their childhood and persuading them to commit suicide in order to avoid an unhappy future. She takes the character as a springboard to explore her own life in three pastels, which Stamps believes to be among Rego’s finest work. “There are so many elements that make her works interesting, and in a way, they all come together in this,” Stamps said. “It’s about literature and play writing, theatrical settings, her personal life, the stories the church gives us, it’s all there.”