Interview with Philippe Knecht, exhibitions chief at Natural Le Coultre.

How important to you is packaging in regard to exhibitions, including how artworks are shipped and stored?

P. Knecht :  Packaging is an integral part of our business. We pay extremely close attention to all the parameters that in one way or another influence the protection of artworks entrusted to us, such as choice of materials, appropriate dimensions, the number of times packaging will be used as well as the number of artworks that can be packed into a single crate and how they are positioned. We analyse all these factors in detail, tailoring them to whichever work of art is being transported to whichever exhibition. The host organisation’s budget – which encompasses both transportation and installation – must be taken into account. Customised service is the usual practice because lenders want their works of art to transit in the best possible conditions.

Do you often have to act as a mediator? Is the chosen packaging solution always on a par with the exhibition artwork’s value?

P. Knecht We offer more than simply packaging solutions and transportation logistics. We are attentive to whatever requests are made by lenders of artwork, and we also have to meet the requirements laid down by the organiser and the curator appointed as exhibition host. Depending on the artwork’s value, lenders may decide to enlist the services of a conveyor to guarantee due care and attention at every stage of the process. Common sense usually prevails, meaning that lawsuits are rare. Museums hosting exhibitions will one day lend out their own works of art, if they have not done so already. They therefore understand the issues at hand.

What type of packaging do you use? How is a suitable solution chosen?

P. Knecht Packaging is suitable if it is properly adapted to the above parameters and if it meets the needs of our clients, whose situations we consider on an individual basis. Standard rigid packaging may suffice when transporting a single work of art by road over a short distance – no need for museum casing. When artworks are shipped by air freight, however, we systematically manufacture top-of-the-range flight crates. At Natural Le Coultre, we espouse an unwavering commitment to the quality standards that we have established for the most common scenarios, enabling us to submit bids in an efficient and timely manner. Once we have been awarded a contract, we then work with each party to analyse the job in detail – which is vital if operations are to run smoothly.

If there is an accident during the transportation stage and an object is damaged, who pays the bill?

P. Knecht Generally speaking, the borrower of the artwork, i.e. the host venue, is financially liable for any damage incurred; they will have contracted an insurance policy to cover such risks. Sometimes owners of artwork will require event organisers to subscribe to a particular policy because they know the insurer, who in turn knows the worth of such or such a painting. Agreements are always easier to reach if everyone involved is well-informed.

Is different packaging used when works are simply stored?

P. Knecht Packaging is less of an issue in storage operations. Either owners already have their own appropriate protection, or they agree to let us custom-build them a crate in proportion to the artwork’s value. However, a work of art still needs to be transported before it can be stored. If it originates from a museum and already has its own crate, our only job is to put it in place – once we have checked that the packaging materials are in good condition and able to withstand the passage of time at our guaranteed temperature and humidity levels.

What has changed over the last decade in the field of packaging?

P. Knecht The materials we use have changed. They are more resilient and durable thanks to the use of new wood coatings. More rigid foam packing and special reinforced cardboard packaging are also employed… I could go on. Some clients will also ask for special procedures. Meanwhile, all kinds of complex new formalities have sprung up that today require us to be constantly tightening up the organisational side of our logistics. Last but not least, our clients – artwork lenders and exhibition venues alike – have become used to the highest standards in logistics, which is where Natural Le Coultre excels. We pride ourselves on the trust invested in us, and we earn it.

Philippe KnechtPhilippe Knecht

Managing Director ofExpositions Natural Le Coultre SA, a company of the Natural Le Coultre network, and expert in public and private exhibition logistics, chiefly for museums and foundations.