I’m entering into my busiest year yet of solo exhibitions with an expected 130-150 individual paintings already allocated for shows in 2007. My question for the masses is this:
What has been your experience shipping artwork? Which carrier have you had the best track record for timely delivery at the lowest rate? Which carrier has damaged or LOST your shipments?
Over the last thirteen or so years of shipping artwork I have accumulated the following knowledge…
UPS throws all wooden crates into the bottom of the truck with the tires and 5-gallon paint cans. Don’t expect UPS to actually pay for any damaged artwork that you insure, without a handful of proof to the value of the artwork-in-question. Proof includes conservator quotes for repairs as well as formal appraisals of that work and similar pieces and past sales receipts. A separate insurance rider on the piece in question is always nice as well.
USPS is completely unreliable and incompetent in many states (New Mexico is a prime example). In my opinion the United States Postal service should be completely privatized and an optional service for citizens. A very slight increase in the rate of stamps would destroy the original spammers (junk mail) and the general citizenry would not be held at the mercy of a government entity that acts absurdly simply because… they mistakenly view themselves as a necessary utility. This is the age of email and online banking; while many baby-boomers may balk at exposing financial info online… I believe leaving personal banking info in a street-side mailbox or in my case – the mail carrier’s trunk is much more dangerous. Besides the rant, though, I worked at a postal sorting plant many years ago while a lowly college student attempting to earn enough extra cash to by my spouse’s engagement ring. My experience in government work taught me a thing or two about seniority, incompetence and technical terms in the government sponsored shipping industry.
Smoke breaks = pot breaks (then they return to sort your letters…)
Fragile = throw twice as hard and wildly into the trailer
Open or broken packages = continue to forward to the next destination until the box is completely empty, then claim to “not understand what happened” because there is now no way to know what the package contained
Seniority = when everyone either quits from stress or is fired for stealing mail, the person that has been with the agency the longest automatically becomes the new boss (in the case of my sorting plant, the senior employee was the guy that pushed the broom around the sorting floor ten hours everyday… that’s right the bosses were all canned for stealing mail and the custodian became the plant supervisor – that’s when I quit)
DHL - I’ve had three packages “temporarily lost” by this company in the past four years. Not great, but considering their shipping fees are one-fifth of that by FedEx and UPS… a very viable option. Absolutely no insurance provided over $100 for artwork but once again VERY inexpensive… I’ve shipped entire 25-piece shows in three wooden crates for as little $66 (total!).
FEDEX – probably the best option for safety concerns… I know that all the big Santa Fe galleries only use this company. Then again, these same galleries also ship 99% of their art in sturdy cardboard containers – a major no-no… one word… WET! Cardboard doesn’t protect against water and I can personally guarantee you that your package will encounter an opportunity to the exposure of elements. Now in all fairness this is a common issue with ALL carriers but just remember; the package handlers at UPS, FEDEX and DHL are all making the same minimum wage. All packages are handled quickly rather than safely.
So, Daniel, how do I protect myself and my potential exhibition, you may ask. Build a sturdy crate. Solid reinforced wood (think hinges), insulated (remember the eggshell sound-proofing used on the interior walls of radio studios), and waterproof (glue-seal where you can, but more importantly place each work in its own sealed plastic bag inside the crate). Each crate may cost upwards of $30-40 to build, but they are reusable for a minimum of a year (if maintained with new screws, patching, etc) and allow one to ship via a cheaper carrier such as DHL with only the worry of the very occasional temporary loss instead utter destruction of the package, and ultimately, the artwork.
Good-luck, let me hear your stories and nightmares with the shippers. - DN