The evolution of the art transportation industry

As Convelio represents a modern generation of fine art shippers, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back and to inspect the history of the art transportation industry from its conception to nowadays. We will assess the parallels between the evolution of the art transportation industry and socio-cultural trends through historical periods, as well as make predictions about the future of the transportation industry.

The Statue of Liberty, Paris, 1884
The Statue of Liberty, Paris, 1884

The art transportation history can be divided into 4 periods: before the advent of specialised fine art shipping companies, the advent of specialised fine art shipping companies, the emergence of tech-enabled fine art shippers with the global rise of tech, and the upcoming sustainable shift impacting the future development scenarios.

Art as a means of creative expression dates back to prehistoric times. We have traces of art being created by the earliest human groups, even before the written word. The earliest means of art transportation is believed to be linked with the nomadic way of life. Ancient peoples traded and transported creative works to other transient communities while constantly changing their location. Later on, art transportation took the form of shipping “vanquished” goods via ocean. Consequently, international air transport emerged as a quicker and safer way to transport art. This invention marked the end of the challenges linked to temperature and humidity fluctuations as well as possible water damage of the precious art pieces.

The advent of specialised fine art shipping companies arrived as art started being more and more accessible to all demographics. Growing public interest in art, the emergence of art fairs and block-buster exhibitions as a fashionable way of entertainment and a place to be seen were all inherent to the 1970s-1980s. In the 1990s, specialised fine art shipping companies were already established as a well recognised industry. The historic industry players – Hasenkamp, Momar, Cadogan Tate, Crown Fine Arts, etc. – reflected this state of the arts and the most important needs of the end clients: safety, security, status, trustworthiness, stability. The alliances between these companies and clients are long-lasting and based on a strong bond which was a reflection of the art world’s conservatism at the time.

Moving on to the 21st century and the global rise of digitalisation, new actors emerged in the industry - tech-enabled fine art transportation companies such as Convelio. The access and affiliation to the professional art world and to collecting became easier and more open to different social classes. The art transportation industry followed the trend and new actors began to appear: modern, tech-oriented with a focus on innovation. The main societal concerns and needs that these companies address are speed and reactivity, simplicity and optimization of processes, accessibility, innovation. The safety of transportation is still very important, but other values are becoming increasingly important, replacing the role of a century-lasting relationship with one service provider.

As the world keeps rapidly changing in front of our eyes, the industry is now facing new challenges. Climate crisis and the growing awareness of the need to transform business practices is affecting every company’s activities. In the art world, there are three distinct ways for future art shipping companies to tackle the issues faced by climate change. First of all, through innovation: by using technology to change shipment habits. This could be by introducing reusable crates through a company such as Rokbox. Moreover, technology can be leveraged to encourage more consolidated shipping: this would be similar to other applications where the service is shared between clients, and in doing so energy is saved and emissions are reduced. Secondly, through due diligence: by measuring the carbon emissions produced at every stage of the shipping process and then finding ways to tackle them. And last but not least, with the change in ways of viewing art. The rise of digitalization means art will naturally move increasingly into digital modes of production, as exhibitions take place online or works are sent via email and produced on the gallery site.

This brief excursion into the history of the art transport industry demonstrates its long-term presence and adaptability. Here at Convelio, we are constantly challenging and improving our existing services and tech products to support the art world in its continuous transformation. Follow our news via our social media channels and our website to be the first one to know how we implement one of our company’s main values: “Innovate to simplify”.

January 5, 2022

Anna Kopylova