During the pandemic registrars were faced with constantly shifting exhibition dates, marooned
artworks, delays to transport and many more logistical headaches. However, one small gift Covid‐19
did offer up was a push to reconsider how we work with couriers. It forced us into a position where
we could only operate remotely, and this enabled us to change our colleague’s perception of how
we could work in the future. As the pace of art transport slowed down we were given the
headspace to explore and trial remote couriering, revisit the use of bookend couriers
and…….consider not sending a courier at all!
I was excited to hear how the National Gallery had approached a review of its courier policy
considering it’s a collection of such cultural and financial worth. I was interested to hear how risk
assessment on this scale was carried out. Claire’s thorough explanation of how they moved from a
period of research to putting their policy into practice will, I’m sure, be reassuring to lots of us asking
the same questions following a long stint of remote courier appointments.
The National Gallery’s former courier policy was written in 1999 and up until the pandemic they sent
a courier with every work of art and for every touring exhibition change over. In return most lenders
to the National Gallery’s exhibitions also sent a courier with their loans.
The NG began reviewing their courier policy in 2021, motivated by Covid‐19 but driven by other
factors such as ‐ increased levels of lending and courier resource, (NG have calculated that the time
required to courier objects was burning as many staff hours as two full time posts), exhibitions costs
rising which means that Galleries and Museums with smaller exhibitions budgets simply can’t afford
to borrow if courier costs are involved, and the importance of addressing the climate crisis.
The first stage of the review was a period of research which involved talking to other registrars and
peers, Heads of Collections Management, consulting the Bizot guidelines, and looking into what
implications there might be for Government Indemnity and commercial insurance. They consulted
conservators, curators and their head of security. Crucially they also used an internal audit team to
assess loans that had travelled without a courier during the pandemic. They concluded that loans
had been effectively managed and risk had not increased. Where damage had occurred, the
presence of a courier could not have prevented it from happening. The findings from internal audit
were a valuable endorsement for pursuing the review further.
The benefits found in reducing couriers accompanying loans out have been; they were able to
continue lending throughout the pandemic, they have reduced staff time away from the gallery,
they have saved borrowers money, they have confirmed that couriers are not an insurance
requirement (other than for US state indemnity), insurance premiums should not increase as a result
and they are still able to maintain high levels of care ‐ processes are still as stringent.
It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not a one size fits all, not very painting can travel
unsupervised, and this is where the importance of risk assessment comes in. Another consideration
is who mans the phone when a loan is out? When you have multiple loans in different time zones
this can put a strain on the department tasked with this (often the registrars department). We also
need to consider that not all Museums and Galleries will be technically equipped to deal with this
method and even if they are then condition checking is not possible virtually, so we need to accept
that this element of the install is entrusted to the borrower.
When dealing with loans in for NG exhibitions they found again that savings were made financially
but lost in terms of time. They have found that lenders who might not have sent a physical courier
will often request a remote courier. This has increased appointments, adding to install time and
making scheduling more complex. However, given the recent change in the landscape of couriering
they have also found that negotiating the presence of a courier in any form has become easier.
Remote installation relies hugely on digital tech and WiFi to manage installs and this is needed both
ends for a successful appointment.
The bones of the new policy are the following:
 Its possible to send some works safely without a courier
 Old masters are particularly complex and need extra care and probably a courier in most
 High levels of care and planning reduces risk
 A measured approach should be taken
 They agreed to commit to reduction where possible
 Decisions rest on the type and nature of the object
 Each loan should be assessed on a case‐by‐case basis
Risk assessments are crucial and are carried out by the loans panel based on the information
available at that point. They also act as an audit trail for each decision. However, NG reserves the
right to change their decision on a courier as new information comes to light during the loan
negotiation period.
There are a number of things that we can do to mitigate risk (all of which we do as standard): Use of
high spec cases, working with trusted fine art agents, using well trained virtual couriers, reviewing
loan venues thoroughly.
But we can also use enhanced mitigations: tracking and monitoring (use of trackers to monitor
vibrations/environmental fluctuations), extra degree of communication and documentation, sharing
couriers, using our contacts to help install on our behalf, extra courier training, remembering we
have the right to reverse a decision.
Given that art transport and courier travel are significant contributors to carbon emissions, a review
of how we work is overdue. The National Gallery have estimated that they will be able to reduce
physical couriers by approximately 30%. Thanks to Claire and the National Gallery for sharing their
approach to what can seem like an overwhelming change. Hopefully, if we haven’t already made
steps to change our approach, we now have some of the tools to help us get there.