by Benjamin Genochio

Ilya Kushnirskiy 

Fine Art Shippers is a New York-based company that specializes in secure transportation and handling of fine art, antiques, collectibles, and design items. Since 1995, they have been providing comprehensive artwork shipping services to galleries, private collectors, art dealers, auction houses, and artists. Incollect sat down with Ilya Kushnirskiy, co-owner of Fine Art Shippers, to find out about the specifics of the art logistics business, the pitfalls artwork owners should consider when moving valuable items, and the most unusual shipping job he has done.

Tell us about your specialty as a fine art services business.

Our specialty includes shipping valuable and delicate items such as paintings, statues, sculptures, decorative fine art objects, vintage furniture, design objects, ceramics, chandeliers, and other items of any size and weight. Additionally, through our trusted partners, we offer art insurance and customs brokerage services. We provide our clients with customized, high-quality yet affordable solutions for fine art shipping and handling that are affordable.

I was going to ask about affordability as shipping costs increased dramatically during COVID. How do your prices compare to the competitors?

Fine Art Shippers operates both domestically and internationally, and we take pride in our diverse range of transportation options that are available at various price points. For instance, for local transportation, we offer an art courier service, while for long-distance moves, our art shuttles are an excellent choice. These shuttles travel throughout the entire country, stopping at major cities, and we provide regular updates on their schedules, allowing our clients to plan their delivery needs accordingly. Moreover, we are flexible and can make adjustments to the shuttle's itinerary to meet specific customer requirements.

What else is different or distinct about your company, why choose you?

We are a family-owned business run by a small yet highly professional team, including experienced professional art handlers, skilled craters, expert carpenters, and seasoned antique dealers, who have been in this industry for over two decades. We do everything ourselves, taking great pride and care in how we handle the property trusted to us. We do what we do because we genuinely love art and see our job not only as transportation but as the preservation of unique items.

How did the business start? 

Fine Art Shippers was established in 1995 as a small team involved in local art transportation services for the Chelsea Antique Center. Soon after, we began working with numerous decorators and designers, transporting their fine art and antique furniture pieces, along with ceramics, porcelains, Russian icons, and various decorative objects for their clients. 

What is the most important thing for people to know about the high-end art and collectible shipping business?

Whether it's a local move or an international shipment, high-quality art packing and crating are essential for safe and secure artwork transportation. Each valuable item requires a unique approach and a customized shipping solution to safeguard it throughout the entire shipping process. Our art handlers and crate makers have many years of experience constructing wooden crates of all sizes and types. Importantly, our team handles every step of the fine art packing and crating process in-house, without outsourcing any work to third parties.

Do you have representatives in markets other than New York? 

Fine Art Shippers is based in NYC, but we collaborate with many reputable art logistics companies worldwide and can help organize shipments almost anywhere in the world if required by our clients. That said, we remain a client-focused company and provide personalized service to each client, whether they are shipping a single artwork or an entire collection. Our team always works closely with our clients to ensure their requirements are met.

Logistics is an enormous part of dealing with collectibles, do you offer a full range of services?

Absolutely! In addition to the services I have already mentioned, we offer white glove art delivery, art insurance, art storage, art installation, and art staging. We also provide auction shipping services, estate moving services, exhibition set-up services, and more. So when a client reaches out to us, all they have to do is give us the artwork's details, such as dimensions, weight, estimated value, and the locations of pick up and delivery. If necessary, we can visit the client to look at the collection to determine the exact way of shipping. 

How is the business changing in your view, is technology providing efficient solutions to logistical issues or is it still a ‘hands-on’ business?

Technology has changed things in art handling. These days, we're using tracking devices to monitor the movement of art as it makes its way to its destination. These devices can also measure vibrations, while GPS-based alarm systems in our trucks keep the items safe and secure. And with the development of special apps, we are able to document every step and detail of the shipping process and provide accurate condition reports to our clients. Modern CRM systems allow us to offer even more personalized service to our clients. That said, art shipping is still very much a hands-on business. Even with all the tech we have, it is still about people — experienced art handlers who know all ins and outs of the job. 

Who are some of the clients you work with? 

Fine Art Shippers closely collaborates with many renowned art museums, galleries, artists, public institutions, and auction houses. Among our many clients and partners are Doyle, Auctions at Showplace, Leonard Auction, Weschler's Auctioneers & Appraisers, Tigran Tsitoghdzyan, Mitchell Schorr, and Henry Richardson, to mention a few. We also serve private collectors buying fine art at Sotheby's, Christie's, Bonhams, and Phillips auctions and participate in the leading international art and design fairs, including The Palm Beach Show, The New York Architectural Digest Design Show, and The Original Miami Antique Show, among others.

What is the strangest or most unusual shipping job you have ever been asked to do?

The most outstanding shipping job we've ever done was transporting a Banksy wall in 2018. The task was highly technical and conservation-oriented, requiring extensive time, manpower, and professional equipment. Moreover, the entire team needed to work like clockwork, including restorers, builders, steel manufacturers, art handlers, and movers, to carefully extract the valuable Banksy mural from the wall and deliver it intact to its destination. It was quite a feat, and I still feel the excitement when I think back to it.

If you were not a fine art shipper what would imagine yourself doing in life?

I would likely still be doing the same job, as I absolutely love what I do. My primary role in the company involves marketing and business development, which means I get to communicate with people a lot. This is my passion, along with art, which has been a part of my life since childhood. I enjoy finding talent, meeting new people, and exploring potential collaborations. So, I would still be working in the art industry but perhaps focusing on a different aspect of it.