It’s Sunday in Abu Dhabi. So far today, Gus VanGeijtenbeek has been up a ladder to assess the hanging of a heavy art work through a suspended ceiling, and met a air conditioning engineer to discuss humidity control. There’s no such thing as an average day.
As I am responsible for fine art function throughout the Middle East, I get involved in everything: from strategic business planning and client relations, to operational tasks like ensuring every detail is correct for a very important project.
There are eight Crown Fine Art logistics operations in the Middle East, although they vary widely in size. Dubai is most established, with dedicated Fine Art crews, Doha follows with a lot of exhibition traffic. Our smaller offices like Bahrain and Jeddah concentrate on imports, although exhibitions requests for Saudi Arabia are on the increase.
There are challenges in the Middle East – you really have to think several steps ahead to ensure things run smoothly. Although the dynamic nature of business here can be frustrating at times, it is very rewarding when you get it right.
Handling, packing and shipping fine art is a constant challenge requiring determination from everyone involved
If you plan an exhibition you have so many variables to consider. You need to know the aircraft are you going to use, the freighter schedule and what back up options you have available. In Saudi you generally need two days of cooling period after hand over to the airline, and their weekend is on Friday and Saturday, so you need to add additional days to the schedule. Sculptures tend to require approval from the local ministry of information when importing into Dubai – not too difficult, but it will add another day to the clearance process.
Although they may seem to be small things, explaining the potential snags to clients at a very early stage is important. Our service is based on looking after our clients, and considering their needs openly – such an approach is the essence of a successful, long-term, working relationship.
Offering a high-quality service means we have to be flexible
I think experience in working in the Middle East is both vital and underrated in relation to fine art shipping. A lot of approaches that would work in Europe can be over-complicated for this part of the world. A promise to import an exhibition without payment of the usual 5% duty is easily made, for example, but it requires a reasonably technical customs construction, which is very different from the open borders of Europe.
Despite the inevitable challenges of the region, clients are beginning to know us as specialists in our field. I think that might be because we are naturally more dynamic and creative in our ability to accommodate unusual projects.
We’ve even had competing shippers referring us for jobs that were beyond them, technically speaking, as people value our expertise. That feels really good and it’s a testament to how far the team has come.