The art of transporting art

By ASLA - Associazione degli Studi Legali Associati

di Elsa Bricchi*

The circulation of works of art following exhibitions, loans, events and more is an increasingly widespread activity, mostly considered a normal logistics service by users and enthusiasts.

However, this activity is not without risks. The first thought goes to the possibility of theft, but not only, as emerged from recent statistics. In fact, it has been highlighted that other types of events such as damage are much more frequent than theft.

Moreover, in the circulation of works of art, the handling and logistics phase is one of the most important and delicate, since it can represent a potential traumatic moment, but which is not always taken into due consideration.

In history there has been no lack of cases of traumatic events in works of art, which have now become sadly famous, which occurred during the transport and / or the setting up of exhibitions or exhibitions. These include: the damage presumably caused by repeated transport of the work The Three Graces by Antonio Canova created for Woburn Abbey in 1994; damage to the Book of Kells, a precious 9th century AD Irish illuminated manuscript, which was damaged in 2000 during transport to Canberra in Australia for an exhibition; William Turner's painting The Slave Ship, which was damaged in 2003 on the return voyage from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Tate Gallery in London after the end of an exhibition; in 2008 the work Marzia by Domenico Beccafumi, owned by the National Gallery of London, broke into two parts during the dismantling of the Renaissance Siena exhibition at the National Gallery.

Over time, the attention and techniques to ensure safe handling of the works of art have gradually refined and real specialized figures have been formed, such as the fine art logistics operator.

Operating in this sector requires very high skills, of various kinds.

The fine art logistics operator, precisely because he has to deal with an extremely risky phase for the work of art, must be able to determine and implement all those actions that can offer the greatest guarantees for the protection of the asset during the period in which this asset is in its custody, also considering the ex recepto liability that weighs on it.

This figure in particular is often called upon to deal with numerous aspects that require specific technical skills and cutting-edge equipment for all phases that often go beyond the mere transport service, but involve the completion of various ancillary activities such as packaging, transport, unpacking, handling and storage of the work.

In the case of important and / or large works, all operations are preceded by an in-depth study of the risk factors of each phase. In this sense, often in collaboration with a conservator or restorer, the fine art logistics operator must have knowledge of the artefact, know its conservation history so as to identify its fragility, evaluating the possible causes of structural degradation and / or risk factors. : mechanical (shocks and vibrations), climatic (temperature and humidity) and human (inadequate personnel and accidents).

The Condition Report is of great support for the logistics operator, a document that certifies the conservation condition of the asset and is used to monitor the state of conservation of the work during the various stages of transport and storage, up to the return to its original location.

Another fundamental aspect, to be checked before organizing the transport of an important work, is the route that will have to be made, so on certain occasions, it would be advisable, if not necessary, to carry out a preventive inspection.

It is first of all necessary to assess how the transport will be carried out: by land, by sea, by air; the type of route; the site where the work must be delivered or installed.

Having studied the material with which the work is made and the path, it will be necessary to evaluate the most suitable type of packaging to protect the work: whether a crate is needed, perhaps air-conditioned, to avoid material trauma; a soft packaging; a case with suspensions; a fireproof case; a double speaker etc.

All this, we reiterate, involves a real study of the transport and handling service of the work, in order not to have surprises, which would inevitably be faced in an improvised way.

At the basis of a well-executed transport there is therefore a real study and a consequent project.

Consider, for example, the transport of a work to Venice, where the water level changes and, consequently, the height of a bridge, under which the vehicle carrying the work must pass, increases or decreases depending on of the tide.

As for the more technical aspects, among the pu nti of reference for the fine art logistics operator refer to the Ministerial Decree MiBAC of 10 May 2001 (so-called "Act of address"), drawn up by a commission of experts with the aim of indicating the correct museum management procedures in many aspects and in which, among other things, the regulations in force in the case of movement and loan of cultural assets are also described, with an in-depth list of useful information for those who must safeguard the integrity of the asset during transport, as well as the numerous UNI regulations (among these EN 15946: 2011 Conservation of cultural property - Packing principles for transport; UNI EN 16648: 2015 Conservation of cultural heritage - Methods of transport).

In addition to possessing the technical skills and specific equipment, the fine art logistics operator must also be able to evaluate the insurance aspects, to cover the goods transported from possible risks, as well as to manage any practices with the Fine Arts for the import and / or export of the works.

In this last regard, the fine art logistics operator cannot ignore the in-depth knowledge of the legislation governing the control of the international circulation of the works referred to in the Code of Cultural Heritage (Legislative Decree 42/2004 and subsequent amendments). to be able to correctly prepare the necessary documentation and manage frequent if not daily contacts with the Superintendency.

The logistics of art is itself, therefore, an art .... and not improvisation.

Given the complexity of the operations to be carried out, it is also essential that even those who need to move their works of art rely on companies and qualified personnel for all phases.

The more structured players of the art market are generally aware of this, such as public and private museums, auction houses, art galleries, which, well aware of the risks associated with the movement of goods, generally turn to solid and specialized operators, also because, normally, it is the same insurance companies that cover the assets that require the intervention of qualified operators.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to come across the consequences, caused by more or less unconscious choices, caused by less structured, occasional subjects, in charge of containing costs and who adopt inadequate solutions for the transport, packaging and handling of the works.

To prevent this from happening, all awareness and training initiatives on the subject must certainly be carried out, with the aim of highlighting, given the complexity of the operations to be carried out, the number of professionals called to collaborate and the risks that can be run. , all the precautions that must necessarily be adopted and the attention that must be reserved for works of art during transport and the operations connected to it.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning the recent establishment in Assologistica of a new dedicated reality, the Logistica Arte association, born in June 2020, which groups together companies that provide the service of logistics, storage, shipping, handling, transport and services and services connected to them, for the management of works of art on the occasion of shows, exhibitions, cultural events also linked to design, events, both in Italy and abroad; this Association, in addition to guaranteeing a high level of professional competence, has the task of studying and managing the specific problems of the category, as well as providing assistance to associated companies for everything that may relate to their specific sector activity.

As expected, the pandemic had a highly destabilizing impact also for this sector with the cancellation of most of the events in attendance, such as auctions, fairs, exhibitions.

However, signs of recovery are beginning to be glimpsed with the recalendarization, among other things, of trade fairs, such as MIART and Art Basel in September 2021 (it was hoped also in Tefaf Maastricht which, however, will be held in September 2021 only in digital version, while in presence in March 2022; the same for Frieze LA, initially postponed to September 2021, which was instead recently canceled).

A recovery that it is hoped will be grasped by all the players in the sector so that, increasingly, fine art logistics is considered a precious art necessary to safely share the artistic heritage of humanity.

*Lawyer, Lca