Beyond the Gondola – Shipping to the Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale is an international art exhibition with complex logistical issues given its unique layout. Ever since its inception 129 years ago, exhibitors have relied on expert logisticians to ensure that the many artworks and sculptures destined for the Venetian pavilions are shipped and installed in a safe and timely manner. The delivery of such a large art event is made all the more unique by its location in a city with a complex infrastructure that poses multifarious challenges when transporting fragile works of art.  

The 60th Venice Biennale, which opened in mid-April featured 331 artists and collectives from 80 countries. Working behind the scenes of the winding waterways and narrow pathways, many members of the International Convention of Exhibition and Fine Art Transporters (ICEFAT) – a network of global art shippers – oversaw the end-to-end delivery and installation for scores of national pavilions as well as independent art displays across La Serenissima. With the Biennale now well underway, ICEFAT’s agents from around the world have come together to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the ‘art’ of shipping to Venice.


At the point of origin, ICEFAT agents must prepare well in advance of the Biennale to ensure all logistical measures are in place, and to mitigate the effect of unexpected issues or delays. SRI Fine Art Services – which operates out of Clifton, New Jersey – was this year tasked with shipping large-scale paintings, drawings, sculptures and a 17 x 8 ft worktable by artist Eddie Martinez to the San Marino Pavilion, for which they began preparations in January. 

With a thorough timeline devised in close collaboration with Martinez’s studio, the International Logistics team at SRI could proactively submit the extensive paperwork required for such shipments; these include the Temporary Import Bond, which permitted entry of the works into Italy for exhibition, and thereafter their onward journey if sold. Timely preparation for shipping to Italy was essential with the long holiday celebrated in the country for Easter, less than three weeks before the opening of the Biennale.

It was essential that shipments arrive in good time, although not so early as to warrant days of storage in the unfavourable conditions of an airport warehouse or to accrue unnecessary storage fees. Melissa Osterwind, President at SRI Fine Art Services, says that “such considerations are second nature for ICEFAT logisticians, who fully understand the demands of shipping precious and fragile works of art across the globe in specific time windows”.

An SRI crate being used as part of the installation for one of Martinez’s paintings.


Key considerations for shipping to the Biennale include the particularities of the host city. Unlike many of the other art world capitals such as London, Paris, and New York, Venice has a humid, subtropical climate in the summer months that can damage unprotected artworks. Although well sheltered once installed by ICEFAT agents, they require additional protection while in transit. Atelier 4 – an agent that operates out of several offices across the United States – mitigates this issue by protectively varnishing all crates destined for the Biennale. This adds a layer of protection beyond the internal humidity-controlling Tyvek lining used by ICEFAT agents within crates.

Another consideration is the architectural infrastructure of Venice; it is a prerequisite for the Biennale that artworks can traverse shallow bridges and pass through narrow palazzo doorways or windows, and therefore crates must be constructed with specific margins in mind. This year Atelier 4 shipped the US Pavilion, comprised of works by the interdisciplinary artist Jeffrey Gibson, which vary greatly in size and medium. The extra protective layering adds inches onto dimensions, adding complexity to the choreography of conveying the crates off canal barges and into place.

An ICEFAT shipment travelling down the canal, to be installed at its destination


The process of transporting artworks to Venice requires international collaboration, which is facilitated by ICEFAT’s close-knit network. From the very beginning of a project, shippers at the point of origin will liaise with shippers at destination, a measure of particular importance ahead of the Biennale.

Singapore-based Helutrans have for many years handled the shipment of their home pavilion, and through partnership with fellow ICEFAT-agent Apice – who operate throughout Italy – they have again this year overseen the shipment of works by Robert Zhao Renhui for the exhibition Seeing Forest. Once received by the logisticians at Apice, Renhui’s large-scale multi-media works were at first stored in their specialist storage facility on the mainland, prior to being transported across the Venetian Lagoon to the Arsenale.

This journey alone was meticulously planned to consider the tide and complex waterways that Apice’s boats had to navigate. The experts at Apice oversee the final stage of many Biennale shipments, each requiring a distinct consideration of entry; after receiving works for the Nigeria Pavilion from Atelier 4, for example, Apice designed and constructed a scaffold alongside the exterior of the 16th-century Palazzo Canal, from which the crated works could be winched inside.

A Venetian doorway – the final threshold for an ICEFAT shipment

The global connections ICEFAT facilitates make these incredibly complex projects much easier to manage. ICEFAT Chairperson, Ida Ng, comments that “the trust that shippers have for each other, forged from almost half-century of collaboration, means galleries and artists have peace of mind that artworks will reach Venice safely, efficiently and on time.” From studios worldwide to palazzo doorways in Venice, ICEFAT marries global logistical expertise with local knowledge to schedule, crate, and deliver exhibitions bound for Venetian shores.

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