Buying a piece of expensive artwork is the easy part – the hard part is figuring out a way to package up that piece of art in a way that it won’t be damaged when it’s delivered to wealthy art collectors. As a result, art galleries have come up with a time-tested approach to packaging up and shipping expensive pieces of art all over the country, and, indeed, all over the world.
The first step in the process is determining the height and weight dimensions of the art being shipped. As a rule of thumb, art galleries prefer to use boxes in one of three specific dimensions (e.g. 36x6x42 for the biggest paintings and 28x4x24 for smaller paintings). When paintings are different dimensions, it’s sometimes possible to “telescope” smaller boxes together, to create a custom box size. The goal is to find a box that’s just slightly larger than the piece of art that will go inside.
And don’t worry – art gallery owners and museum curators have all sorts of tools at their disposal to cut exactly the right size box for you. They even have a special tool to make tiny perforations in the cardboard to make it easier to cut and bend. And they use a tool that some home craftsmen use – the T-Square – to make sure all the edges are straight and even.
From there, art galleries will typically use some sort of plastic wrapping to cover the surface of the painting. The goal is to wrap the painting in a very secure plastic wrap to avoid scuffs, scratches or other blemishes. This is similar to the process of plastic wrapping a pallet of goods or plastic wrapping a suitcase at the airport to protect it on airplanes.
Then, the art gallery will “double-box” the painting by taping together a protective cardboard layer around the plastic-wrapped painting. This prevents any sharp objects or edges from interacting with the picture itself.
From there, the gallery or museum will use bubble wrap as a liner. They will almost never use Styrofoam peanuts for expensive artwork for one single reason – during transit, the peanuts tend to settle to the bottom of the box, meaning that the painting will not be as protected at the end of the shipping process as it was at the beginning. And there’s nothing more horrifying for an art collector than to find out that his or her new painting has been damaged upon shipping!
The next-to-last step is to slide this painting into the outer box. Since the outer box is bigger than the piece of art by just 1-2 inches, the painting should slide in securely, without any risk of shifting or moving around during the shipping process. Art galleries will then use the strongest packaging tape available to make sure the whole outer box is protected from any rips, seams or openings. The final step is a slap on some “Fragile” stickers, and the box is ready to be shipped off to the wealthy art collector.