Do We Need an Art Handler or a U-Haul?

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Daniel Douke, Kingdom Come, 2012; acrylic on 16 stretched canvases.
Daniel Douke, Kingdom Come, 2012;
acrylic on 16 stretched canvases.

Dear BURNAWAY,
I’m moving to Seattle from Louisville, and I’m stuck on a big decision. My wife and I have a pretty sizable art collection, nothing of tremendous value, but each piece means the world to us. (Made by artist friends/family, that kind of thing.) We are on the fence about getting an art handler to pack and transport the works for us. We’ve got over 50 pieces that need to be transported. My wife thinks we can just move them ourselves, I think we should hire a handler. Maybe you can break the tie? Any advice would help.
Thanks,
Moving On Up


Dear Moving On Up,
This is such an important dilemma, and I’m happy you wrote in! I’m sure many young collectors have stood right where you stand, trying to navigate the elusive concept of “valuable art.” When most people hear the word “value” in regards to art they assume, pretty much always, that it’s referring to the monetary value of the work. But this is one of those cases where value transcends money, but still, money is a major factor.
Hiring an art handler to drive anything from Louisville to Seattle, be it a Picasso or your daughter’s macaroni tree, is not going to be cheap. Not in the slightest. Now, normally I always err on the side of “better safe than sorry,” and typically advocate for spending the extra money to do things in the best possible way. But in this instance, I don’t think that’s the way to go.

The first Art Handlers Olympics on New York City's Lower East Side in 2010.
The first Art Handlers Olympics on New York City’s Lower East Side in 2010.

If your art isn’t all that monetarily valuable, hiring an art handler is a pretty outrageous expense. Especially considering that, with the right guidance, you, my smart and talented peach, can probably pack and transport your collection yourself. (Or you and wife can do it together! Spousal bonding!) If you need some tips on packing up your work, I wrote a column back in April that should help you sort it out.
If you really feel like you need to get a professional involved in this move, consider hiring an art handler to soft pack or crate your works for you. Then you can drive them to Seattle. If you want to go an extra extra mile, you can have crates made for the most special pieces. Keep in mind, you can order larger crates that will hold several pieces, averaging anywhere from 2 to 20 works of art, sometimes more. These aren’t cheap, but if you need peace of mind, or plan on moving them around in the foreseeable future, it might be a good option for you. Since those crates are often bulky and not exactly what one might call “space efficient,” see if you can find a dual use for it: temporary storage, or hell, just sling a tablecloth over it and use it as furniture!
If the works are bundled up safely in their custom wooden crate, hopefully then you’ll feel confident enough to put them in a U-Haul and drive them yourself.
Secondly, make sure you understand your insurance policy, if you have one. Is your artwork insured to its full value? If not, you should look into it. Some home and renter’s insurance plans cover collections under “private property coverage.” But make sure you know your plan, and how much it’s willing to cover. You may want to call your insurance company before the move to  negotiate and tweak things so that you feel more secure about toting your art across the country. Even though no amount of money will be able to replace the sentimental pieces of your collection, it can help in hiring a conservator to repair any damage or contribute to a new purchase from the same artist. Something is always better than nothing.
 
Works by Richard Artschwager, at Sprüth Magers, Berlin.
Works by Richard Artschwager, at Sprüth Magers, Berlin.

Last but not least, whether you drive it yourself or and you hire a transport service, be sure to photograph your artwork BEFORE you pack it up, and photograph it inside the truck. That way, if anything happens, god forbid, the proof will be in your favor.
Good luck, and safe travels!!
Sara Estes is a writer and curator based in Nashville. She currently works at David Lusk Gallery and is the former gallery coordinator for the Carl Van Vechten and Aaron Douglas Galleries at Fisk University. She is also the apprentice to paintings conservator Cynthia Stow of Cumberland Art Conservation. Estes is the cofounder and curator of the Nashville-based contemporary exhibition space Threesquared. Her writing has been featured in numerous publications, including BURNAWAY, Number, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, ArtsNash, and ArtNow.