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May 31, 2006

How do you ship a $95.2 million dollar painting?


Ever think about it?

I hadn't, I must admit, until I read David Segal's interesting front-page story in the May 20 Washington Post Style section about just that.

He focused on the journey likely to await Picasso's 1941 painting "Dora Maar au Chat" (above), sold at a Sotheby's auction on May 3 for $95.2 million to a mysterious man purported to be bidding on behalf of an anonymous Russian billionaire.

Long story short: turns out the business of ultra-high end art transport is so secretive that several companies wouldn't even return Segal's phone calls.

Others agreed to talk but only on the condition that neither their names nor the names of their firms be published.

He finally located a few willing to talk on the record and his article is a result of their combined shared expertise.

It follows.

    Want That to Gogh?

    With High-Dollar Art Comes High-Stakes Shipping & Handling

    The spring auction season is nearly over, and that means the super-rich have once again spent unholy sums on wall hangings.

    More than $600 million has already changed hands, with a Picasso, a van Gogh and a Lichtenstein among the biggest prizes.

    Now the winners face a question that few of us will ever have the good luck to ask: Once you buy an object worth a fortune, how do you haul it home?

    A minivan and a poker buddy won't do.

    But a quiet little industry stands ready to help.

    You don't hear a lot about the fine-art moving business, because it generally shuns publicity and rarely advertises.

    Some top-tier firms, such as James Bourlet in Long Island City, don't have Web sites, nor do they hang any signs on their doors.

    Others, like U.S. Art in Boston, run Web sites that are so primitive it seems as if they don't expect visitors. ("You've made it," the U.S. Art home page says in an old-school crawl. "Welcome to the finest transportation resource in the world!")

    Clients in this realm tend to treasure discretion as much as art, which, for anyone with a Rembrandt in the den, makes a lot of sense.

    Several companies wouldn't even return a phone call to discuss their work.

    Other executives would chat with one simple condition: no names. Not their name or the name of the firm.

    A handful agreed to talk on the record.

    All were asked to describe the journey that likely awaits the year's most nattered-about canvas: "Dora Maar au Chat," an oil painting by Picasso that recently sold for $95.2 million, the second-largest wad ever dropped at an auction. (Nitpick alert: Adjust prices for inflation and "Dora" is actually fourth, with a van Gogh called "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," sold 16 years ago, No. 1 at today's equivalent of $116.7 million.)

    Predicting the route of "Dora" requires some speculation because the identity of the buyer is a mystery that has the art world atwitter.

    What's known is that on May 3, a middle-aged, dark-haired man turned up at the impressionist auction at Sotheby's and waved a paddle around until everyone cried uncle.

    Or murmured uncle, really.

    Nobody had ever laid eyes on this guy, who reportedly spoke with a Russian accent and bid like a rookie. (He waved vigorously, for starters. Totally frowned upon.)

    The leading theory is that Waving Man represented any number of Russian billionaires.

    Matthew Weigman, a spokesman for Sotheby's, politely declined to discuss "Dora" or her buyer.

    Let's suppose, though, that the painting is Russia-bound.

    How would it get there?

    The short answer is: in a hurry.

    Every art buyer, especially every super-rich art buyer, wants the goods yesterday.

    It's possible that "Dora" has already left the country, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll imagine it is still awaiting pickup.

    Once selected, the company would dispatch a conservator to Sotheby's to assess the condition of the painting and its readiness for travel.

    The painting would also be measured for a custom case, the likes of which you won't find at a UPS Store.

    It's a box within a box within a box, basically.

    One box is lined with Tyvek, a DuPont product designed to keep moisture out that is hugely popular in the home-construction business.

    Acid-free foam, to provide temperature insulation, lines another.

    The case would then be brought to Sotheby's, where it would sit for at least a few hours -- preferably a whole day -- so that its interior would acclimate to the 55 percent humidity in the climate-controlled rooms of the auction house.

    That's the ideal amount of atmospheric water vapor.

    When it was showtime, plenty of bubble wrap, or something like it, would sheath the painting, which would then be inserted into a travel frame, which would slide into that foam-lined interior case, which would then be loaded into the wooden crate lined with Tyvek.

    All the while, a moving-company employee would snap photos.

    "You document everything to make sure you're covered," says Graham Stewart of Art Crating, a fine-art mover based in Brooklyn.

    "There are some major personal-liability issues involved in handling a piece of art like this."

    The painting would then be carried to a truck stationed at the Sotheby's loading dock.

    The vehicle will certainly be equipped with air-ride suspension, for maximum smoothness, and a satellite tracking system, for maximum tracking.

    The truck would almost surely be unmarked -- no "Honk if you love Matisse" bumper stickers, no nothing.

    The anti-theft approach here is the very opposite of the Brinks-truck strategy.

    Instead of a vehicle that says "vault" secured by men who say "I have shotgun," the idea is to remain as invisible as possible, on the theory that if nobody knows what you're moving, you won't be robbed.

    There are dozens of fine-art movers in the United States and many of them move hundreds of pieces a day.

    All this cargo crisscrosses the country unnoticed.

    Almost surely, the owner of "Dora" would ask for armed security, so the truck would be trailed to the airport by a "follow car" -- typically an ex-cop working for a security firm.

    In all probability, the ex-cop won't be needed because art-in-transit thievery is extremely rare.

    The only case anyone can remember is the recent, colorful case of the hopelessly inept Patrick J. McIntosh, who was arrested on May 3 in a trailer park in Florida after disappearing for a couple of weeks with a truckload of art that he had been hired to deliver.

    Among the valuables were seven works by the American modernist Milton Avery and an assortment of sculpture and antiques.

    McIntosh was so chilled-out about this caper that it's unclear if he actually intended to cash in or was merely making a lengthy pit stop to visit a woman described as his "baby's momma's sister."

    This inside job notwithstanding, robbery is actually second or third on the list of worries.

    Unlike diamonds, a Picasso is difficult to fence.

    Higher up is anxiety about damaging the goods and getting them to their destination on time.

    Some clients send their own jets, but that is rare.

    When the object is small enough to fit into carry-on luggage, it is often toted on board by a courier with a first-class ticket.

    Several veterans of the business have stories about security guards getting quick private shows in side rooms at airports.

    "If they want to examine my bag, which happens a lot these days, I ask for privacy and they always understand," said one frequent flier.

    "Some of them really get a kick out of it. You get a lot of oohs and aahs."

    "Dora" is too big, and too valuable, for the overhead rack or a seat of her own.

    She is likely to be loaded into a commercial or cargo jet. (For a courier on a cargo jet, jump seats are usually available. Not recommended for the easily nauseated.)

    A painting is usually supposed to travel the same way that it is hung -- no reason to make gravity an enemy with goods this precious -- so "Dora" will be upright the whole trip.

    She probably won't lack for company.

    As an extra precaution, the buyer is likely to send a representative of his own.

    Joanne Heyler, director of the Broad Art Foundation, has tagged along with many of the paintings lent out by her employer, which is based in Los Angeles and known for its collection of modern and contemporary art.

    It's work she doesn't exactly relish.

    "You spend a lot of time in a cold [airport] warehouse, night and day, watching a crate, which isn't doing anything exciting, which better not be doing anything exciting," she says.

    "It's basically guard duty."

    The big peril, she says, are forklift drivers who move the merchandise from warehouse to aircraft.

    The crates are put on pallets and moved by drivers who are usually up against a deadline.

    Heyler recalls a Malcolm Morley painting that she momentarily thought was about to be shish-kebabbed by a French forklifter.

    "They spear things -- it happens," says Bryan Cooke of Cooke's Crating and Fine Arts Transportation in Los Angeles.

    "I've heard of maybe half a dozen examples, which isn't a lot when you realize how much art is shipping every day."

    Once "Dora" gets to Russia, that is where the fun begins.

    The way fine-art movers talk about that country makes it sound a little like the Wild West, but more corrupt.

    "There are two airports that service Moscow, and we're told to use one airport sometimes and the other airport other times," says Jonathan Schwartz of Atelier 4 in Brooklyn.

    "Fortunately, our freight-forwarding manager speaks Russian. The reality is that one has to have close government ties to navigate those murky waters."

    One also has to have AK47 assault rifles.

    Schwartz expects that "Dora's" trip from airport to Chez Billionaire won't be discreet.

    Cars in front of and behind the truck, he says.

    A helicopter isn't out of the question.

    Then, home at last.

    The price for all this?

    There are dozens of different options available, so estimates are difficult.

    "Nail to nail service," which would cover all the customs paperwork, all the moving and even some help with hanging, could cost from $6,000 to $10,000.

    Insurance sold separately.

    Clients either buy their own or leave that to the mover, who adds it to the bill.

    If this job sounds like a recipe for acid reflux, apparently it is.

    "We're glorified movers, but I'm not sure where the glory is," says Stewart of Art Crating.

    All 35 of his employees hold a master's degree in fine arts, he says, which means not just that they have a reverence for the product but a passion about it that is one of the few frissons of the job.

    Otherwise, it's mostly about fretting.

    There is traffic to endure, flights to make and the ever-present, if faint, possibility that someone will gouge the Renoir.

    Plus a lot of impatient clients accustomed to getting what they want when they want it.

    Then little things, like the way cargo airlines always unload the perishable food first, because perishable food is the airlines' lifeblood.

    Try explaining that to a billionaire who is waiting for a Picasso.

    "They don't understand," says a moving veteran.

    "The painting might cost $95 million, but it's not coming off before the tomatoes."


Two things came to mind after I read the article above.

The first was that it really is kind of absurd in this day and age for Brink's and Wells Fargo and all to have their brightly colored, highly-visible armored trucks, with their uniformed armed guards fully in evidence, moving cash all over town during the day.

This isn't the St. Louis-to-Denver Pony Express run, guys.

The 1800s ended a while back.

Why don't they do it like the high-end art movers?

Much more sensible and far safer.

Second, I'm astounded at how relatively little these art movers charge to transport their precious cargos: I was expecting prices of $50,000 to $100,000 and up to move paintings whose value is in the high eight figures.

Shows how out of touch I am.


More on Dora Maar and this painting — by the great critic John Berger — here.

May 31, 2006 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

No-Hands Portable One-Touch Automatic 'Safe Lid' Can Opener


Videre est credere.

From the website:

    One-Touch Can Opener™

    Just touch the button and cordless opener automatically "travels" around can!

    Magnet keeps dirty lid from dropping in and unique cut allows lid to be


    replaced securely on can.



    7" x 2-1/2" to fit easily in drawer.

    Requires two AA batteries (not included).


But wait — there's more!

"FREE Bonus Gripmate™ jar opener included."


so you know it must be good.

I'll tell you what: watch the video on the website and see if you don't think this is one pretty amazing piece of technology — especially at the price.


May 31, 2006 at 03:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

FaithMobile.com — 'Digital Deuteronomy'


For $5.99 a month they'll send a daily Bible verse to your cellphone.

The company sent its first message last year and business is booming.

Seeing as you're so busy doing something close to nothing (but different than the day before) you sometimes forget to stop and take stock of what exactly it is you're doing.

For 20 cents a day it's word down.

May 31, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Giant Inflatable Outdoor Screen — Episode 2: Price Break


Every year about this time I have my crack research team explore what's new and hot in outdoor entertainment, what with summer and all coming on with a rush.

They came up with a system that's worth a post.

Above, the 2006 Inflatable Big-Screen Outdoor Theater.

From the website:

    Outdoor Home Theater Screen

    Inflatable home theater screen and your own projector let you create a "drive-in" experience right in your own backyard.

    Big, weatherproof 8-ft. screen inflates in just 4 minutes with the powered air pump.

    Connect the two weatherized outdoor amplified speakers (with full range sound) and you're ready to watch a movie or the big game with your family or friends.

    Screen secures to the ground for steady viewing.

    Theater deflates for easy storage.

    Screen is durable, weatherproof PVC.

    Two nylon rope screen tie-downs keep it stable.

    Amplified speakers are weatherized for outdoor use.

    Theater works with most projectors (not included).

    8 feet wide x 7 feet high.


Last year's May 2 entry in the alfresco media entertainment space came in at a cool $9,999.

This year's drops a digit — that's right, it's only $999[.95] (speakers and air pump —


but not projector — included).

OK — you want to start in about how $999.95 is five digits, one more than last year's?

No slack with that lousy 95 cents when you're around, huh?

You know why they call person a pill?

Because they're hard to swallow.

Just thought you might want to know.

Oh, yeah, one more thing — picture quality improves when viewed through progressively stronger beer goggles.

I'm just saying.

May 31, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An open letter (actually, email) to


Michael Young asked me to forward it — indirect though this route may be (I do know with certainty that at least two people currently working for Microsoft are regular readers of bookofjoe).

Here is the email, which came in as a comment in my sidebar at 5:18:03 p.m. this past Monday.

Unlike my usual practice, I'm not going to edit it in any way: I think it serves its purpose much better in its original form, just as it was received here.

    Dear Joseph:

    A new comment has been submitted to your weblog "bookofjoe," on the post "Bill Gates' 'Think Week' — 'World's coolest suggestion box'."

    Comment from:

    Name: Michael P Young
    Email: mike@firehouseinternational.com
    URL: http://www.firehouseinternational.com


    Dear Microsoft Think Tank,

    How do you make a suggestion to your company?
    Where is your suggestion box... I had to go to Google to find a way to write to you?

    Yes of course I was all over your website. Crazy
    How do we the public simply write you?

    I think you are the best thing that ever happened to the computing industry. But that is history... how do you compete today... isolate yourself or lisson.


    I think that in 20 years+- that you could/would have improved your spell checker. Yes it is cool how it works with in the different programs, but I have to go to Google to check my spell checking or to find the correct way to spell a word. Google finds useally with in the first try.

    Note: I have many friends and alway tell my employees to go Google to check spelling and how to spell the correct word in the correct content... (intesting)

    I think your dictionary is very limmited vocabulary and was writen for 30 years ago.

    Yes, I addmite I have a learning disablity and do not see the spelling of words well, as my professors at Berkey said, I would never be able to spell well.... that is what a spell checker is for.. to help people like me... about 1/2 the population of the world..

    but you the smart people at Microsoft do not have a clue... the true needs of many of us not so balanced people who can not see or remember how to spell, of words we use everyday.

    I'm 52 years old, a business owner and write, e-mails, memo's, letters, patents, web pages and sell millions of dollars of products, every year.

    My suggestion, if you do not want to get run over by Google than you have to do as well or better than your competor.

    Your spell checker (sucks)

    *****Please broden your vocabuary and the way you your spell checker suggest words to be spelt...

    We need more words to choose from in suggestion list. Your spell checker is too foccused... get some bad spellers to help you.....

    Maybe if their is an issue with word program you should link to MSN spell checker.... hummmmmmm.

    **** Note: This is not the first time I writen Microsoft about this issue... is anybody home.

    Thank You ......... (Bill)
    Best of intentions, keep up the good work.

    Mike Young



Steve (Ballmer — what were you thinking, booboo)?



May 31, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Honeycomb Lamp — by Kouichi Okamoto


The 27-year-old designer (pictured above with two of his lamps) created an accordion of pleated paper that opens and closes, like a party ornament, into a lamp base and shade.


It was featured in a May 25 New York Times story about last weekend's International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York.

¥3,700 ($33).

More information — including how to order one — here.

May 31, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Why does aluminum foil have one shiny side and one with a matte finish?


Ever think about that?

And wonder which side should face the food?

Robert L. Wolke, in his "Food 101" column in the May 24 Washington Post Food section, explains it all for us.

Here's what he wrote:

    First, a brief bit of history.

    In the 19th century, Thomas Edison invented a phonograph machine, in which a sound-driven vibrating needle impressed grooves into a cylinder covered with a thin foil of the soft metal, tin.

    In the 20th century, tinfoil was being widely used as a wrapping material for foods and drugs.

    By the middle of the century, tinfoil had been replaced almost completely by thin foils of a different metal called aluminum.

    Yet many people persist in calling aluminum foil "tinfoil."

    We chemists get annoyed at things like that.

    Get with it, folks!

    This is the 21st century!

    Now, about aluminum foil.

    Aluminum foil is made by rolling sheets of 98.5 percent pure aluminum metal between pairs of polished, lubricated steel rollers.

    Successive passes through the rollers squeeze the foil thinner.

    Household aluminum foil is so thin (0.0005 of an inch) that the rollers can't handle it without tearing it.

    The final rolling is therefore done on a sandwich of two sheets, face to face.

    The outer surfaces emerge with a finish as smooth as the rollers, while the two face-to-face inner surfaces emerge with a matte finish.

    Hence, a shiny side and a duller side.

    When you use the foil, it makes no difference which side is up, down or sideways.


FunFact (from the same column, different question): "Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust."

Last year a group of researchers from MIT published the results of perhaps the most rigorous study ever performed to investigate whether aluminum foil helmets serve as a protective measure against invasive radio signals.



one of the investigators.

At the very bottom of the MIT site there's a link to an informative video if you'd prefer something visual.

May 31, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Z-Lite Therm-A-Rest Pad — Nap in a briefcase


    From websites:

    The most compact closed-cell foam pad Cascade Designs makes, the Z-Lite is ideal for economically-minded fast-and-light backpackers.


    • Egg-crate pattern increases pad softness and adds heat by trapping warm air under sleeping bag

    • Accordian-style design lies flat instantly and folds up into a small package

    • Incredibly lightweight at only 11 ounces (Short); 15 ounces Regular

    • Durable, closed-cell foam withstands years of abuse


    • Dimensions: 20 x 47 x 0.75 inches (Short); 20 x 72 x 0.75 inches (Regular)

    • Stuff size: 20 x 3.8 x 5 inches (Short); 20 x 5 x 5.5 inches (Regular)

    • R value: 2.2


Keep it in the bottom of your bag — you just never know when a nap will try and break out.

The Short is $27.25 and the Regular $31.80, both here.

May 31, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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