Few outside the art world will be surprised to learn that the complexities involved in moving works of art around the globe require meticulous planning and close collaboration with partners as objects transit through multifaceted customs regulations.  This is what our members facilitate day in and day out, playing a critical role as custodians of culture enabling and expediating the transit of valuable works of art, much of which is destined for public display. 

From conveying contemporary paintings across the Pacific to transferring the treasures of Versailles over the Mediterranean, our agents adeptly handle the export of art globally for projects of varying sizes and calibres. In this blog post, we explore the remarkable endeavors of our agents across five continents, shedding light on their expertise in shipping art around the world.

France to the UAE – Bringing Versailles to the Desert

When the Louvre Abu Dhabi was inaugurated in 2017 it was France’s largest cultural project abroad, heralding the start of an unprecedented partnership between the two countries. “France and the UAE have a close cultural bond, and we’ve helped to strengthen it,” says David Pierucci, Sales Manager at France-based member Bovis Fine Art. He was discussing his company’s logistical management of Versailles & the World back in 2022, a generational exhibition that took place at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, coordinated by Agence France-Muséums.

Pierucci outlined the implausibly complex process involved in bringing Versailles to the desert. “We sent our teams across France to 20 lenders to measure, pack and crate more than 100 pieces for the shipment in 60 travel cases,” he explains, “we spent four days at the Palace of Versailles packing works.”

Security was of the utmost importance for these priceless pieces. Many objects were transported straight from museum to airport, rather than stored away from the lending institution, necessitating a logistical marathon to ensure everything arrived on time for the right flights. Three separate flights (two from Paris and one from Amsterdam) carried the objects, along with twelve couriers overall, including one from the UK.

Across 6 weeks, exhaustive export administration, CITES permits for ivory, and navigation of remaining Covid precautions were all part of this highly complex project. Bovis planned the intricate timings necessary to manage the entire operation, including multi-day delivery to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which was ultimately a complete success. The secret? Pierucci is clear. “You must be scrupulous, meticulous. Plans are everything.”

Canada to Australia – Moving A Multi-Sensory Experience

How can a “multisensory experience at the intersection of art and science” from Canada arrive at an Australian museum? Only through the global collaboration of ICEFAT members at both sides of the project. Rhys Mitchell, International Exhibitions Manager of Sydney-based IAS revealed how his team worked with Toronto-based PACART to move interactive audio-visual installations 10,000 miles from a Montreal studio to Sydney.

“During the exhibition’s planning stages, sea freight ports were still being significantly impacted by congestion and delays,” says Mitchell. “We knew a comprehensive understanding of costs and process would be vital.” The solution was to closely curate the route, adding a 4-week time cushion for delivery. The shipment was taken overland almost 3,000 miles to Vancouver, rather than loaded directly at the Montreal sea freight port. This saved significant complication, as the sailing from Vancouver went directly to Port Botany, Sydney. Arriving on time, avoiding any changes, the exhibition was stored by IAS before its final installation.

USA to Japan – Pacific Professionalism

“Our era of logistics is more and more professional – we ICEFAT agents globally have the ability to undertake complex projects more effectively than ever before.” Here, Bryan Cooke, Director of Cooke’s Crating (USA), wasn’t talking about conveying a Klimt from Vienna to California, or delivering Star Wars film props to Japanese department stores (two of his previous projects), but about a more intimate project recently carried out alongside Japanese ICEFAT member, Yamato.

Over $200m worth of art is exported from the USA to Japan annually, and Cooke’s latest project follows this trend. Cooke’s shipment was completed in ten working days, from pick-up, crating, TSA inspection and paperwork, delivery to LAX and air freight shipping to Japan. 

“It is a pleasure to work with such thorough colleagues in Japan,” says Cooke about his collaboration with Yamato. At every stage the company confirmed the bespoke crating dimensions and materials, noting the intricacies of packaging for acrylic and oil paintings, and gave constant updates on the shipment’s progress. Arrival was smooth and on time to Narita Airport where it was taken into the care of Yamato for final delivery – professionalism proven on both sides of the Pacific.

Brazil to Czechia (Czech Republic) – Fink sets the scene in Prague

The world’s largest showcase of theatrical scenography happens in Prague once every four years, and one of the strongest representations is always Brazil. Rio-based Fink has managed delivery of the Brazilian representation numerous times and its General Manager, Renata Vinhas, speaks of her pride that “the company has, for decades, dedicated all its expertise in the logistics for this special and unique cargo.”

The 2023 iteration was another success for the country. “The more delicate scenographic pieces required bespoke crating,” continues Vinhas, “but we were able to construct ‘lift vans’ for the more structural pieces.” One of the largest pieces was a tent-like structure for the Student Exhibition which evokes the original scenographic format of a canopy.

Dimensions were taken and confirmed for all pieces before a single cut of wood was made, and this thoroughness ensured the works were packed and crated on-time to arrive in Prague, before installation by Fink technicians.

South Africa to Australia – At the Sharp End of Logistics

If you’re shipping toothpicks 6,000 miles across the Indian Ocean, it should be for good reason. In Chris Soal’s work, The hand that was dealt us, there is one. Despite its wooden structure, the tactile work evokes feelings of soft velvet, and thousands of shards of light and shadow are created by each toothpick spike.

Lorette Gerber, Specialised Projects Coordinator for South Africa-based agent Elliott Mobility, managed transportation of Soal’s work from Cape Town gallery WHATIFTHEWORLD to the Museum of Old and New Art in Melbourne Australia. Gerber noted the complexities of the mission: “The piece is constructed entirely of bamboo and birch wood toothpicks, polyurethane sealant and industrial fabric, which combined to require a creative approach to crating.” Working with the in-house crating department, a bespoke frame was designed that secured the artwork for the long-haul flight while minimising contact points with the piece itself.

Once flown to Melbourne, the project was completed at its institutional destination by Melbourne-based ICEFAT agent Grace Fine Art, which installed the delicate piece in its new location.

In each example, these projects underscore the vital role of collaboration, attention to detail, and adherence to international standards within the ICEFAT network, no matter the scale of the project. These projects exemplify the meticulous planning, local knowledge and shared expertise that our agents bring to the table, ensuring that art continues to transcend geographical boundaries with utmost care and precision, ultimately for the enjoyment of all.