Ahead of the WAF Conference 2022 our director, Clare Hindle, interviews Fortius managing director, Claude Herrmann on reducing exhibitions’ carbon footprint, and artworks storage and security…
FORTIUS offers storage services for artworks at the Luxembourg Freeport. What are the main advantages of this kind of structure for collectors, dealers and art foundations who call on your services?
First of all, our storage spaces within the Freeport offer both a very high level of security and ideal preservation conditions for long-term storage, all at very reasonable prices. This makes them an ideal place to store culturally significant works of art.
We must also highlight the logistical advantages linked to our location at Luxembourg airport. The Freeport is located a few meters from where the planes are loaded and unloaded, which reduces the costs and risks associated with air transport. We are also close to major highways that allow us to deliver to major cities in Europe in just a few hours.
Secondly, Fortius is able to offer a whole range of services beyond handling and warehousing. We regularly welcome restorers or experts who intervene at the request of a client for the preservation of their artworks. We also provide showrooms that allow the presentation of artworks on site in order to reduce the costs and risks associated with handling and transport.
Do you accept any type of artwork?
Our team has extensive know-how in the management of all types of works beyond paintings and sculptures, such as contemporary installations, multimedia works and especially large and heavy artworks. Thanks to the very diverse collections of our clients, we have mastered the handling and management of these very special objects.
What are the other advantages of your Luxembourg location?
The Freeport is a free zone with a unique VAT suspension regime , as it covers both artworks and the services provided by Fortius and other external parties. This is a major cashflow advantage for foundations that collect and lend works around the world to promote their cultural message.
What advice would you give to a foundation looking for a partner to organise the storage of part of its collection?
Fortius believes that building a long-term partnership starts with listening to the foundation’s needs. We have to ask them the right questions to help them determine their real requirements. Based on this analysis, we can suggest solutions that are truly adapted to what our partner is looking for. In short, to build a partnership of trust, you have to feel listened to, understood and supported.
What are the key points of interest to analyse to ensure that you receive the best possible service?
A first key point is to ensure that the selected service provider has solutions ready to meet the challenges encountered. For example, a foundation may need a gathering place for a traveling exhibition or may encounter a lack of space due to construction or renovations, or may have a more general need for long-term storage. Most importantly, the situation can evolve rapidly in the course of the collaboration. The service provider must be able to demonstrate adaptability. This is one of the important points to take into account.
Then, foundations must analyze the issues related to their place of establishment, for example some foundations may require to store their works nearby for legal and tax reasons; and even more so if they have their own buildings for the purpose of storing and organizing exhibitions.
(eg the Villa Arconati for the Augusto Rancilio Foundation or the museums in Paris and Venice of the Pinault Collection).
Another essential point for a foundation is that their partner understands its mission and the methods to achieve its goals. For example, Fortius will be much better able to offer interesting solutions for a foundation without a physical establishment, but which has a very high loan activity, or even for foundations with a high rate of outgoing and incoming loans.
On the other hand, we would not recommend our services to a foundation that only exhibits its own works in a fixed location far from Luxembourg. It would have nothing to gain.
Our understanding of partnership is to only offer solutions that have a real benefit for the customer, not to “sell at all costs”. In our business, mutual trust is built over the years and many of our current major clients have only become so over time.
Finally, a real partnership is also built on advantageous economic terms and Fortius is proud to be able to offer intelligent solutions that respect both the client’s requirements and budget.
In addition to the very specific advantages due to your location at the Luxembourg Freeport, how does Fortius set itself apart from other more conventional service providers?
As described above, Fortius sees itself as a partner and ally of its customers. Our ambition is to offer solutions that make sense but also to know when to say no, either when requirements and budgets do not match or when we are unable to offer a service that meets our standards in terms of quality.
One particular area where Fortius stands out is in pooling structures and services as much as possible. Obviously, this starts with our warehouse where we pool certain storage spaces to optimize the storage of objects for several customers unless there is an explicit request for storage in a private room. This approach allows us to offer very advantageous fees while optimizing the rate of use of the rooms, which has an impact on the efficiency of the security systems, air conditioning, etc.
Can you also offer services such as experts or restorers?
Of course, and here too, we try as much as possible to pool the services of the experts, restorers and photographers who come to work at our facility. Thus, if possible, these suppliers work on the works of several clients in parallel within the Freeport itself, which reduces the costs for each client as well as the environmental impact of their travels.
In addition, our customers also benefit from our large network of partners that they might not have access to without Fortius.
Do you pool other services that involve economies of scale?
Indeed, the double economic and environmental advantage is also the main motivation for us to offer, where possible, transport that groups the shipments of several customers.
This mainly involves transport to major cities such as Paris, London or Brussels, but we are always attentive to the requests of our customers.
It should be noted that our proximity to Luxembourg airport, a major hub for the transport of works of art in Europe, allows us to group works at the Freeport; in air transport or even during road transport where we take advantage of trucks which unload at the airport and which would have returned empty to their place of departure.
What steps are you taking to help art foundations reduce the carbon footprint of exhibitions?
It is true that the field of transport and storage of works of art contributes significantly to the carbon footprint of the artistic sector, even if on a global scale its share is probably negligible.
The real challenges are above all at the level of air transport as well as at the level of air-conditioned warehouses such as the Freeport, which need a lot of energy to maintain the right temperature and controlled humidity.
Which direct actions has Fortius implemented?
At Fortius, the first step is to optimize our storage at the Freeport. By intelligently grouping artworks from several clients, we can really streamline the use of energy-intensive air conditioning and security systems and, if possible, deactivate certain systems in rooms that are not occupied.
Regarding road transport, we strive as much as possible to offer groupage solutions to our customers. For air transport, however, we depend on the efforts of our partners, who are responsible, for example, for optimizing the use of their aircraft. While it is difficult to completely decarbonize air transport, we see opportunities emerging in the medium term, particularly through the use of biofuels produced from renewable energy, rather than in carbon offset efforts. Our preferred partner Cargolux is working to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
We also welcome efforts to offer much less polluting sea freight to replace some air transport, knowing that this mode of transport presents its own challenges in terms of pollution and constraints in terms of handling and transport times.
Another important point for us is to ensure that we reduce our non-recyclable waste, especially in terms of packaging. When possible, we reuse plastic film packaging or crates, so that only what is no longer usable is thrown away. In addition, we have surrounded ourselves with partners who share our desire to reduce the carbon footprint and who also offer reusable crate systems (e.g. the Turtle Museum Crate or ROKBOX crates).
We would like to see more effort on the part of our suppliers to offer materials that are more environmentally friendly or made from recyclable materials.
Do you think the art world is ready to play its part?
For the vision of zero-carbon to become reality in the art world, it is true that the massive contribution of our clients is essential to find acceptable compromises between efficiency and carbon impact.
This first involves accepting longer delivery times (e.g. to switch to maritime transport); or an open approach in the use of new materials or new storage methods that are more respectful of the environment.
In fact, the more demand there is from our customers in this direction, the easier it will be to unite all players and partners around environmentally friendly solutions.
Do you have an unusual story where you were required to come up with a creative solution to a unique client request to illustrate your ability to be an exceptional partner?
Fortius regularly has to be ingenious and flexible in order to meet specific client requests. We have also documented some of them on our blog, respecting our obligation of confidentiality of course.
A project that particularly stuck in my mind is the last-minute installation of several large canvases that absolutely had to be presented together in order to respect the desired scenography. As our showrooms alone were not sufficient, we chose to install a hanging system in one of our storage rooms in order to meet this demand. The client was delighted with the staging and above all with the effectiveness of our intervention.
More recently, one of our clients asked us to check an installation made up of large glass slabs before lending the work for an exhibition. The big challenge was to be able to present the expert with the 6 sides of each element, which are both very heavy and particularly fragile.
Thanks to our network of partners and the professionalism of our employees, we were able to find a glassmaker in our region that owns a robot equipped with suction cups.
The handling of the plates thus turned from a nightmare into child’s play (in the hands of an expert operator of the system of course).
You will participate in the WAF 2022 conference as a speaker in a session on Meaningful Partnerships for Impactful Outcomes. What are you looking forward to most about the event?
Fortius is delighted to be a partner of the WAF Conference 2022. In general, we are looking forward to attending the conference to learn more about art foundations and the issues and challenges they face. The conference will also be a privileged moment for us to discuss with the various speakers and representatives in order to explore projects on which we can collaborate and for which Fortius can provide innovative solutions.
On the specific topic of the session about “Meaningful Partnerships for Impactful Outcomes”, we would like to highlight the role of art transport and storage companies in the artistic and cultural world. We are much more than a simple cost factor, executing an already planned transport or storage project. We are partners on an equal footing that can bring real added value to each project, through our means and our know-how. In my opinion, this partnership potential is not fully exploited because both parties do not necessarily have a sufficiently broad understanding of the other’s business.