Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shipping Artwork

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


Anonymous said...

Well we have approx the same stories here in France, I use to work on big size sheet of paper or unstreched linen and I just roll them and place them first in a cardboard tube, then in a plastic one wrapped in a craft paper and send them without any precaution nor insurance, a sort of "bye bye/good luck" thing!otherwise you have to pay a very high cost and if your work is send out of the country nobody is responsable for the loss or damage anyway! I've now a kind of philosophycal attitude about it "it's just about paintings ya know? I can do a dozen more if I need to!". Waiting to look at your new ones!

Anonymous said...

Well, I agree with you on DHL. They are the cheapest. I've had only good luck with them so far. Another thing is: if you do everything on-line and get a questionable charge, just dispute it and the total cost is usually dropped with no questions asked. I've done it twice. I also build my own shipping boxes out of plywood which gets heavy. DHL charges you on size not weight which is good because you can make them sturdy without being charged extra. You can go on and put out a want ad for extra plywood, cardboard and bubble wrap that people are tossing and get it for free. So far no luck with me in that area but it's worth a try especially after christmas. I drive around on Ft. Bragg in my van and take home scrap boards, etc. Then at least I can say the box itself sans my time in building it is FREE! Plus, sometimes you will sell stuff and your box will not come back to you. I also dug into a dumpster behind toys R us one day and got some great packing stuff. Plus DHL will send you coupons for 50% off. Call them and ask them about coupons. Also, consider sending small things via media mail (USPS). It takes longer but it is very cheap. Think sending your info packets to galleries that way. If there's no time crunch it doesn't matter if it gets there in 5 days or 9 days. You can also sell paintings on ebay. It's pretty hard though.