There’s a new generation of art logistics, seemingly proliferating, and not on the margins of the industry, but front and center, backed by significant venture capital. For the well informed reader, I am not speaking of corporate consolidators, some of them are in our very ranks, and that type of growth was inevitable and quite organic (remembering that many of our founders weren’t graduates of business schools, nor are many of the current batch). Rather, I refer to internet based aggregators, who boast powerful algorithms to spit out and manage what is essentially a highly idiosyncratic packing, storage and shipping process.
There are only a few that come to mind, but I am sure there are more on the horizon, and depending on their momentum, we could see some of the giants such as Amazon and Alibaba get in on the action. I remember seeing some ads on search engines from Amazon that looked like they were offering their technology to logistics companies targeted to the art world, but I think that was itself a random data mining scheme, you never can tell. That said, the current group of providers that claim to do the shopping for you, but promise a more bespoke experience (and one of them actually does a solid job of follow up), will find themselves hard pressed to profit on complex museum exhibitions and other challenging projects that ICEFAT members excel at. They’ll do the work, but do they actually make money on it. I am reminded of a few experiences on Uber and Lyft trips, where in discussion with the gig worker driving me, I was told that they made more money on my fare than I had actually paid, including tip. This is a type of risk that Amazon hedged their bets on to eventually become the leader in aggregation. Risky if you have limited investment, but in the case of ride shares, when the vehicles are finally autonomously driven, it will pay off. But how long will it take for the consumer to allow their valuables to be handled in such a way?
Watching the streaming platform Hulu’s The Next Thing You Eat, episode one, I thought of how the Amazons and even scrappy tech-forward companies like the ones I’ve just alluded to, will change the landscape for fine art logistics, and like David Chang and his crowd, I feel like the day of happy artisan dinosaurs is not yet over. The demands of museum exhibitions and the professional expectations call for bespoke services that are difficult to franchise. The relationship between an enthusiastic collector and their devoted art handler is a special thing.
However, time is on the side of SMALL, SMART and AUTOMATED, so one day, the algorithms will rule and we’ll all be floating in our hover-chairs, dribbling bubble tea down our chins.