Not everyone might think they need a specialist to move their painting. It's a piece of canvas in a frame resting on a hook, and you probably hung it on the wall yourself. Paying someone hundreds of dollars to take it down and shuttle it around seems potentially, you know, precious.
But there's a thriving industry of art handlers, and--no surprise here--they say the service is a necessary part of owning and moving art.
Or rather: some art. Even people in the industry draw the line somewhere. "If you buy it from a reputable gallery," says Micha Lang, a principal at Mana Fine Arts, an art handler and transporter based in Jersey City, NJ, "you need to engage an art handler." So you are now free to bubble-wrap your kid's finger paintings yourself.
Your Matisse might be equally safe if packed the same way. But movers, like insurance companies, are in the business of building your fear that something terrible will happen.
"Yes, you can move valuable pieces of art with a regular mover," Lang says. "Everything will be fine, until something goes wrong."
He calculates that it would cost around $500 to move a painting from the East side of Manhattan to the West side: "Two men in a truck at $150/ hour, which includes the time to get to you, package the art, transport it across the park, and install it, plus $60 for materials."
When you're talking about paying $60 for materials-- cardboard and what Lang calls "basic packing material," you get some sense of the potential markup. Lang says that you get what you pay for: because most of his employees are artists themselves,"they have a deep knowledge of, and a relationship to, the material and the product they're handling."
So, he says, an artist would know that an oil painting in the winter might require much different treatment than a watercolor on a muggy summer day-- the climate controlled truck could be adjusted so that the canvas doesn't contract, or the packaging around the watercolor could be sealed to combat moisture.
It's also a question of hedging your bets: it might make sense to spend $500 so that your $50,000 painting doesn't get ruined. Doing that for the dog painting you picked up at the flea market, on the other hand, may not.
"When you hire an art-shipping company you're in a sense paying insurance, because you're mitigating risk," says Jonathan Schwartz, president and CEO of Atelier 4, an art handler with locations in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles.
Schwartz adds that several insurance companies might not allow coverage if the art isn't being handled by professionals. "If you have a valuable artwork," he says, "part of what helps you retain the value is by not destroying it."
Fair point. But for someone who's traversed the wilds of Central Park thousands of times without calamity, spending $500 on a painting's equally mild journey might seem paranoid. To protect the value of your wallet, you can risk a crosstown cab, which costs about eight dollars.