The export of art and design works can be a potentially complex undertaking. This was well illustrated by one of the art world’s most celebrated clashes with bureaucracy, precipitated by the shipping of Constantin Brancusi’s ‘Bird in Space’ sculpture to the Brummer Gallery (New York 1926).
The importation of Brancusi’s cast metal sculpture into the United States resulted in a court action which ran for two years after US Customs officials determined that the sculpture should be classed as a [prescribed] ‘industrial part’. Whilst US Customs eventually lost the action (the work in question today forms part of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice), it could hardly be argued that a protracted court action of this nature would be an experience any artist would welcome. The possibility of such an incident arising today should not be wholly dismissed – though most procedural difficulties these days centre around the movement of antiques, antiquities and national treasures, rather than contemporary artworks.
The export of sculpture and other artworks is to a some extent a specialised undertaking and art shippers can access administrative export and import experts with an in depth understanding of international customs practices. Many of the larger shipping and forwarding companies also retain agents in most of the major trading countries, these agents are able to assist locally in the event of any difficulty arising. Reputable art and antique shippers are able to prepare appropriate documentation and enure that correct packing and shipping procedures are followed. Though as stated in the TRANSPORT & PACKING article, there are also some excellent general shipping companies who offer a broadly comparable service.
Taking an artwork such as a cast sculpture out of a country by way of hand luggage can have various consequences – though the principle that the OWNER has a legal right to take items in their possession out of a country BY HAND is generally accepted worldwide. Keep in mind though, that export restrictions may apply to NATIONAL TREASURES and other categories of object, also be aware that what might pass as an innocent figurative study by one cultural group, might be interpreted as offensive pornography by another.
One of the unpredictable aspects of exporting any artwork either by hand or shipment, is that customs officials generally have extensive discretionary powers. These powers can be deployed if an official is presented with an object, such as a metal sculpture, to which a value or reason for import is not easily attributed or confirmed. In some cases the sculpture concerned may be confiscated, or else subject to a large payment of duty, import deposit, or other levy. There may also be a demand made for the supply of extensive supporting documentation, as well as a verbal questioning of the carrier in person. In extreme cases (especially if illegal activity is suspected), the carrier may be detained.
The movement of artworks between member states of trading blocs such as the European Union is relatively free and straight forwards. Provided the proper procedures are followed, the movement of artworks between other mature trading nations including the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada etc, should also be reasonably simple. In all cases it is important to ensure local customs procedures are observed, with taxes and any other duties paid.
Some countries operate a CARNET system, this allows valuable or important artworks to be exported overseas for temporary exhibition and other purposes. Where available, a carnet can be obtained by the payment of a fee (fixed and non-returnable), plus the deposit of a BOND which is relative to the work’s ascribed value (the bond is then refunded when the artwork is returned to it’s country of origin). A carnet is usually available from CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE or similar national institutions, usually with offices in larger cities. The possession of a carnet will allow for a clearance of the work through customs, free of duty and other taxes, for a period of up to twelve months. The carnet is not in any way suitable for works which are intended for sale, or permanent export abroad. Artists intending an overseas sale or exhibition are advised to seek appropriate advice on the best method and implications of exporting artworks abroad.
INFO: This article was prepared with professional guidance.
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