Claims Scenarios Resulting From Shipping and Handling Art

By Denise Johnson | July 7, 2017

Nearly two weeks after Art Basel, a global contemporary art fair that closed June 18, brought together 291 galleries from 35 different countries presenting art from more than 4000 artists, the displayed art has likely been shipped back to its owners.

Done incorrectly, shipping and handling art can result in costly claims, said Colin Quinn, director of Claims at AXA ART Americas.

The main issue is packing the art properly for shipping, said Quinn.

“That’s where you run into the biggest issues,” he said.

The process is that once a piece of art is scheduled to be shipped, the owner contacts a fine arts shipper who will complete a condition report to identify any pre-existing damage.

This accomplishes two things, Quinn said. First, the report will identify any previous damage. Second, the materials and construction of the art piece will be examined to assist in determining the best method to pack and ship it.

The insurer offered some lessons learned from real claims that resulted from shipping and handling errors involving art. According to AXA ART Americas, the errors could have been avoided had there been careful preparation and execution by experienced art handlers and shippers.

An insured enlisted the services of a fine art shipper to transport an installation from a lender’s home to an institution a considerable distance away. The dimensions of the installation were approximately 5 feet x 8 feet and weighing over 300 lbs, but for some inexplicable reason, the shipper only assigned two art handlers who attempted to load the work Laurel and Hardy style onto the waiting truck. Predictably the work was dropped causing significant damage to the chagrin of the lender.

Lesson learned – Be sure that the dimensions and weight are clearly relayed to the shipper and adequate art handlers are assigned to the task.

An insured consigned a sculpture to a gallery and took great pains to oversee the packing and crating of the work prior to shipment. The sculpture was carefully fastened into the crate which was marked fragile with the top end clearly indicated. When the work was returned to the owner it was in a larger crate with the sculpture covered in bubble wrap and surrounded by Styrofoam packing peanuts. When the owner removed the bubble wrap it revealed the sculpture had broken into 3 pieces. When the owner complained to the gallery, they explained that the original crate had been inadvertently discarded and they had to make do with the materials at hand.

Lesson learned – Don’t assume that all parties will follow best practices, it is important to discuss preparations for shipping and return instructions to all parties entrusted with artwork.

An insured agreed to ship a large installation from his location to a gallery a short distance away. The work was too large to fit through the elevator doors of the owners’ residence, so the art handlers enlisted the help of the building owners who instructed the art handlers to place the work on top of the freight elevator and the building super would manually lower the work to street level. For reasons best known to the super, he pushed the up button for the elevator and the work was crushed as it went to the top floor of the building.

Lessons learned – There is no substitute for common sense when packing and shipping artwork, make sure best practices are followed and the prudent man theory of insurance is applied.

The owner of the artwork should notify his or her broker as soon as it is decided that a piece of art will be part of an art fair, Quinn said.

In addition, communicating the right dimensions of a piece of art can avoid a potential claim.

“If they’re going to carry a very large piece…you need to have the correct number of art handlers on the truck,” he said.

Galleries, art dealers, buyers and brokers can mitigate these types of claims by choosing the right conservator for the work, Quinn said. There are different specialties based on the type of art and the medium.

Quinn described the investigation and evaluation process for these types of claims.

Adjusters need to review documentation, including photos of work pre-damage and post-damage, the conservator’s treatment proposal and the appraisal report. In addition, fine art adjusters must research market value.

The insurer emphasized that galleries, art dealers, buyers and brokers should not assume that all parties will follow best practices when shipping. Discussing preparations and shipping instructions with all parties entrusted with artwork to be transported is key to avoiding art shipping and handling claims.

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