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The Secret Business of Shipping Priceless Artworks

Take a minute and let that sink in….what is involved in shipping priceless artworks across South Africa and even to that far corners of the globe?

Why is artwork shipped so often?

Picture this, you walk into your favourite art gallery or museum filled with the excitement of viewing the latest Dylan Lewis bronze or Irma Stern masterpiece. Did you ever take a minute to wonder how the priceless artwork arrived to be where it is? The process is precise and involves a number of highly skilled individuals who understand the industry very well.

But this still does not explain why artwork is shipped so often? It is all about demand. Some artwork has been around for many years and has moved around the globe countless times and for the very reason of demand. Everyone wants to get their eyes on that famous piece of art and who know’s even walk away with an investment.

The art market is hyperactive and creates its own momentum. According to the most recent analysis global art sales total nearly US$68 billion annually, a 10% increase since 2008 with 40 million transactions in 2018 alone. Great quantities of art are continually moved from auction houses and galleries to purchasers to dealers and back again, especially the rising and fast-expanding Asian market which only had 55 major commercial art fairs two decades ago, and now there are more than 260.

Shipping Artworks Safely
Priceless artworks are shipped often, so protection is important

What is the hype all about in the art scene?

As mentioned before the art market is hyperactive and this is as a result of major artworks travelling around the world creating more awareness and attraction. In the modern era, it can even be likened to a “pop star” on a world tour.

Some of these globe-trotting blockbusters have included the Cairo museum’s spectacular ‘Treasures of Tutankhamun’ exhibition from the early 60’s and moved around the globe for the next 20 years and The Mona Lisa visited the USA back in 1963, which caused a major hype, to name a few.

Probably the most attractive allure to artwork is its sheer value and the intrigue as to its interpretation.

What does shipping priceless artworks entail?

Shipping priceless artworks does not come cheap. One of the greatest costs alone is the transportation and insurance.

Most artworks travelling long distances include a combination of courier vehicle transport and air. This can be tough on the art piece/s owing to varying conditions sometimes not within human control.

For this reason the packaging of artwork in its own right is priceless. There are many factors influencing the packing process and include what materials were used to make the artwork, how fragile it is and its size. This will influence the type of paper used, the crate size and reinforcement requirements.

Packing and Shipping Artworks
Crating correctly is a great part of safely shipping priceless artworks

Art handlers at the origin and destination ends of the journey are tasked to load or remove the artworks from the crates. These individuals should have all the knowledge required to safely move the art piece, many times with protective materials.

Moving the artwork could involve skilled forklift drivers and rigging teams as well. In the art world nothing is too much to ensure the safe transit of a priceless artwork.

More on shipping artwork with Monarch Moving

Monarch Moving’s specialist packing service

So just insure it

Yes, insurance is a good idea and in many cases if the artist is still alive reproducing an artwork is an option, but what if the artist is no longer alive? Another valid argument among art critics is, does the “rework” hold the same intrinsic value?

Insurance does have a role to play, but the ultimate goal is transport the artwork trouble free.

Only experience counts

So, now that we have had a deeper look at the secret business of shipping priceless artworks, what does this mean for you?

If you are moving home or looking at shipping a priceless piece of artwork (like your child’s plaster cast feet or a Pierneef) the team you commission to help you pack and move these need to have the necessary experience and skills to do so with confidence.

Just ask them what artworks they have moved before and you will soon come to know if they are suited to the job.

If you would like to discuss your artwork shipment needs with us, please do not hesitate to contact us. Also, feel free to call us on +27 (0) 861 932 329 or email us on

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