Can a new partnership between auction house Christie’s and shipping line Crozier help alleviate supply chain issues caused by the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
Earlier this month, the two art world heavyweights announced plans for a new monthly sea freight service between London and New York, as well as a fleet of bespoke shipping containers that will be used exclusively for art. There will also be a bimonthly sea freight route between London and Hong Kong.
Each shipment will provide Christie’s with 60% of the space and the remainder for consolidated shipments of Crozier Gallery clients. It is estimated that the average sailing time for regular shipments will be 12 days, making it perhaps most suitable for planning long-term art fairs or other international events. As a bonus, sea freight transport promises an 80% reduction in emissions compared to air freight.
“The supply chain is broken,” said Fritz Dietl, president of Dietl International Shippers, which also operates a free port out of Delaware. Air freight costs have quadrupled in some market segments, he said, due to reduced passenger flights to and from China, which are still far from pre-pandemic levels. He added that the majority of air cargo transported globally is on passenger flights, as opposed to dedicated cargo aircraft.
A recent shipment, from Shanghai to the United States, cost Dietl $200,000 (whereas the pre-pandemic rate might have been $60,000-70,000). By the time the expo closed, the price of that same return shipment had skyrocketed to $600,000.
Meanwhile, ocean freight is also under strain, as evidenced by the many images of shipping containers stacked up in ports across the United States, especially on the West Coast. “The ships are sitting outside ports, but it’s not just in California,” Dietl said. “It’s extreme on the west coast, but the problems are happening on the east coast as well.”
To get the works to Venice, Crozier’s London-based director Graham Bence relies primarily on road freight. He had no major problems with England (although Brexit added another layer of red tape and compliance, he said). But shipments by road from other countries have been blocked by the war in Ukraine.
The commissioner of the Pavilion of Kazakhstan, Meruyert Kaliyeva, said yesterday that vehicles carrying flag cargo had to re-route to Georgia, where “naturally, there is a big queue at the Georgian border, which is why a significant amount of our cargo has been delayed. We expect the installation to be complete by mid-May 2022.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine also worsened shipping. Freight lines only notified some customers of delayed shipments at the last minute. A Dietl container sent to Venice (via a stopover in Genoa) in early February, for example, was first delayed and then sent somewhere near the coast of South Carolina, then diverted to Tangier, Morocco, because some of the other containers on board had been bound for Russia.
“So you have to scramble to find a ship or air freight from Morocco to Italy,” he said. “Fortunately we found a boat, but at that point I basically said to the client, ‘I can’t guarantee it will arrive in Venice before we open.’ This is not good news, everything has become complicated and difficult.
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