Large-Scale Artwork Requires Extra Planning at Art Basel

By Mary Pontillo

Large-Scale Artwork Requires Extra Planning at Art Basel

Art Basel Miami Beach is one of the most important art fairs in America. This December, an ambitious new exhibition area, Meridians, will house large-scale projects inside the Miami Beach Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom where installations, videos and performance art that’s too big for traditional booths will be displayed, discussed, applauded, critiqued and altogether impossible to miss.

But artwork that gargantuan comes with a special set of risks.

In this blog we wrote last year, we talked about how art galleries can prepare for Art Basel with proper planning and coverage. The sheer scale of Meridians adds new layers of complexity for gallery owners, from shipping to the liability that goes along with interactive installations. In addition to purchasing your fine art fair coverage as early as possible, consider these obstacles when bringing big art to Miami. 

  • Union laws. Miami Beach Convention Center is notoriously tricky when it comes to local union laws. Before you go, make sure you understand who’s allowed to carry what into the building. If you’re planning on having a crew set up the display, check with the venue or your Customs broker to make sure you’re complying with local union laws. The last thing you want is the people you’ve hired standing around not able to get their job done.


  • Liability exposure. Large-scale works can present liability exposure that small-scale works don’t. Massive sculptures and towering structures can cause bodily injury if someone trips over part of the installation, or runs into part of a metal sculpture. While most artists like to maintain control over the experience by keeping the space pure, there are ways to mitigate injuries. Visual barriers (tape on the floor, for example), physical barriers and thoughtful placement of the art can help prevent slips and falls. Consider the flow of foot traffic and orient pieces accordingly. And be sure to consult your risk advisor ahead of time about potential liability.


  • Workers’ compensation. Is the artwork designed to be interactive? You might need to post “at your own risk” signs or get participants to sign a release form. However, if your gallery is sponsoring a performance piece, you will certainly need to make sure you have the correct workers’ compensation policy in place to cover the performers. If you have an international gallery, then you’ll have to have adequate workers’ comp coverage for the U.S.


  • Packaging and shipping. If you’re shipping large items to Miami that can’t be shipped by air freight, work with a really good Customs broker who understands ocean cargo shipments. There are limited ports to ship to and from, and the timeframes are much longer. Ocean freight from Asia, for example, could take six weeks, not including ground transport from the port to the venue. So plan ahead!

Additionally, Customs brokers can advise on best methods for packing items for transport. We advise clients to use “roll-on/roll-off” (Ro-Ro) ships, in which cargo is on wheels and kept under deck. If the piece has a sensitivity to climate, you’ll need to get a refrigerated container.

Even if the value of a large-scale piece doesn’t cover the extra costs of shipping and insurance, Meridians can earn fantastic exposure for a gallery, or create buzz for a particular artist.

As always, work with a broker who will get the best price, coverage and risk management advice when you come to an art fair like Art Basel. Brokers should ask their clients the dollar amount of the artwork they’re bringing. Sometimes, it can lead to a lower premium. It also lets underwriters know the total accumulation at the fair. Declare what you’re bringing so that it’s covered when disaster strikes.

Find me on LinkedIn, here.

Connect with the Risk Strategies Fine Art team at

Email me directly at