How to ship an artistic masterpiece

Georgia Museum of Art offers a glimpse into how fragile paintings are moved from museum to museum

Museums often borrow works of art for exhibitions, but how does a precious, fragile painting from, say, New York make its way to Atlanta without a speck of damage? This month the Georgia Museum of Art offers a rare glimpse into the complexities of shipping a work.

Tools of the TradeCushy ride
Each crate is carefully cushioned to protect the painting and, in some cases, even the frame. The interior of the crate built for this painting was fitted with special clips that kept the elaborate frame “floating” in the middle of the crate rather than rubbing against its sides.

Custom fit
The crate on display at the exhibition was used to ship Elizabeth Jane Gardner’s “La Confidence,” a large oil painting. The artwork shouldn’t move inside the crate, so many containers are custom-built for an exact fit.

Security, part 1
Domestically, artworks typically travel via trucks, which may be equipped with special alarm systems and tamper-proof locks to ensure 24/7 safety.

Atmospheric conditions
To prevent art materials from degrading, trucks are climate controlled, with the temperature set at 70ºF and 50 percent relative humidity at all times. They’re also equipped with air-ride suspension to reduce damaging vibration.

Security, part 2
While in transit, artworks are sometimes accompanied by couriers—usually museum employees who oversee the transport, unpacking, and installation.

On the calendar: The Georgia Museum of Art offers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to stage an art exhibition during Tools of the Trade, from January 30 through March 13.

Image credits: Crate illustration: Brown Bird Design; Elizabeth Jane Gardner, “La Confidence,” ca. 1880. Oil on canvas, 68 x 47 1/8 inches. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia

This article originally appeared in our January 2016 issue under the headline “Handle with Care.”