Momart Ltd’s Business Development Manager writes on the importance and awareness of art handling in the Middle East. Canvas Daily, 19 March 2015, Issue 3, Art Dubai Edition
It was 2am as I stood protectively near the enormous crate in the blistering heat at the loading dock deep within Sharjah airport. “What is this?” asked the burly customs officer. “A Painting”, I replied. We opened the case and he allowed us to proceed to the office where they could scrutinise the paperwork. “FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND?” he exclaimed, refusing to sign the paperwork, concluding that there was no way this work was worth this value in US dollars. After my discussion with his supervisor, the form was stamped. The piece was a Contemporary Iranian artwork dated 2008.
Why this example is relevant to art handling is because awareness at all levels in the art logistics process is important. A customs officer is an integral link in the course of an artwork’s journey to the end consumer, and an airport handler or a delivery driver is often unaware of how sensitive or valuable their cargo can be.
With art transportation, the pressure is to deliver, to deliver promptly and (most of the time) in an extremely cost-sensitive manner. It can be confusing when the likes of Abu Dhabi’s Louvre and Guggenheim demand the highest quality of fine art shipping service, in order to demonstrate to the global institutions that they are fully equipped, capable and trustworthy to handle any loan. Then there is the commercial art market, with low margins and need to cut overheads anywhere they can in order to be profitable. This necessity to nominate a low-cost transport solution invariably leads to suppliers who lack a great deal of art handling knowledge. This is where mistakes occur. Yes, it is possible to take calculated risks, but what happens, as what happened in Dubai several years ago, when the forklift driver clumsily pierced the shell of a case containing a painting by Claude Monet? It was written off and the unsupervised driver had most likely never heard of the artist.
As the value of art increases in the region, so does the necessity for better handling, planning and storage. Important works created in the Middle East from the early to mid-20th century and before are irreplaceable. It is widely known that within the region, desert temperatures and humidity levels soar and it is vital these works are properly preserved. To be aligned with a trusted logistics partner raises this credibility.
As in Europe and the Americas, the art logistics industry is a vital link in the chain of the commercial and public art community. It should be respected. Treating important art with under-calculated risk is simply bad practice. Why, after acquiring a beautiful piece would you take the risk? The Middle-East art market is moving forward. And so is the need for qualified handling. It pays to invest.
The above article has been edited by Momart. It has originally appeared in the Canvas Daily, Issue 3, Art Dubai Edition on 19 March 2015.