Art world worried about new rule on air cargo

that a piece in New York needs to be in Zurich or Beijing the next day.

“And so you have a Ming vase in special foam, and an airline subcontractor has to take that out and then repack it because he got a false positive on an explosive swab test,” said Mary C. Pontillo, an assistant vice president of the DeWitt Stern Group, an insurance brokerage that deals extensively with fine-art clients. “It’s a big understatement that that’s something you don’t want to happen.” In January Dewitt Stern conducted a seminar in New York for dealers to help spread the word about the new rules.

Jan Endlich, the chief registrar for Cheim & Read, the Chelsea gallery, which sends about half of its art shipments as commercial passenger-plane cargo, told Kennedy in an e-mail message that “the beauty and horror of a gallery situation is just how quickly and last-minute it can react, and change course.”

He and others in the gallery world said that even large galleries were unlikely to set up their own secure facilities under the federal screening program because of the requirements of space and resources, and so will rely on art-shipping companies that have become certified screeners. This will add time and cost to shipping art, some of which is now crated in-house, and sometimes in collectors’ own houses.

Andrea Wood, who runs an art management company based in New York, once traveled the world as a courier of artworks on passenger planes. She told Kennedy it was common for her to watch a work be crated right off of a collector’s wall, to get in the van with it and accompany it straight to the airport, where, before 9/11, she could stand on the tarmac and see it loaded into a jet’s hold. “I was there from nail to nail on both sides of the trip,” she said. “That’s not going to happen anymore.”

John McCollum, the international shipping manager for Stebich Ridder International, an art-shipping company that has been certified by the U.S. federal government to screen cargo, said another complication the art world would encounter involved the frequent use of anonymous parties in transactions. “You’re a dealer in San Francisco and you’re trying to sell a piece that happens to be in a gallery in New York, and the buyer is in Paris, but the guy in New York, for all kinds of reasons, doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s the one selling the piece,” McCollum said. Because the federal government requires airlines to ensure that cargo comes only from known shippers — those who have filled out paperwork or been identified in other ways as being legitimate — such hidden parties in art deals will have a much more difficult time remaining hidden. “It’s going to be a mess,” McCollum said.

Douglas Brittin, the air cargo manager for the TSA, said the likelihood of airline personnel needing to open art crates or other complex cargo would probably remain low even after August (in all, 13,000 tons of cargo a day is transported by passenger airlines, according to the agency).

The new rules, however, could lead to delayed shipments, and even the faint possibility of an airline inspector with a screwdriver uncrating a Calder sculpture or an early Renaissance tempera painting could be enough to cause collectors to think twice about loans or other shipments moving by commercial air.

“This is government and airline workers basically trying to figure out how to deal with the high-end art world,” Pontillo told Kennedy. “It’s not something that either party wants to think about, but soon there’s going to be no choice.”