Photo: Rasmus Flindt Pedersen
Photo: Rasmus Flindt Pedersen


When Hammershøi flew home on SAS

Travelers, baggage and food are not the only things onboard SAS flights. Many unusual things are often carried in the huge cargo hold, including treasures from the art world.

Vilhelm Hammershøi is most renowned for his paintings of muted interiors, the cool Copenhagen light and


American Friends of Statens Museum for Kunst is co-arranging athe travel of the exhibition  from east to west in the US. AFSMK is a danish-american organisation, which aims to strengthen the relationship between the museum and the american audience by actions that benefits the museum. Read more at afsmk.org

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lone female figures turned away from viewers. His color palette and style are simple yet at the same time complex, calm yet disquieting. And 100 years after his death, Hammershøi still fascinates art lovers, in Denmark and the wider world.

This is why a collection of his works was recently removed from their permanent home at the National Gallery of Denmark to go on a tour of art galleries in New York, Toronto and Seattle through the American Friends of Statens Museum for Kunst in New York.

When the paintings were returned home again, they were shipped by SAS Cargo. And even though having art treasures like the Hammershøi collection onboard is not an everyday occurrence, SAS Cargo is used to taking charge of all sorts of shipments.

“We like to say that SAS Cargo ships everything – except giraffes,” says Michael Beck Damkjær, Handling Manager and Safety and Security Manager for SAS Cargo, Copenhagen. “That limit is actually set by the physiology of giraffes. Otherwise, we accept most things, from pharmaceuticals and sports vehicles to works of art, penguins, crocodiles, snow leopards and anything else you can imagine is used on a daily basis by businesses and private individuals.”100 years after his death, Hammershøj’s paintings still delight art lovers all over the world. Photo: SMK / Statens museum for kunst

Beck Damkjær explains that freight shipments are managed with rigorous attention to detail, in line with set procedures. SAS Cargo checks that nothing contains anything that it shouldn’t. And that everything loaded onto a flight is safe for both travelers and the aircraft, in addition to being packed correctly. Goods are palletized in a way that means they cannot shift even a single millimeter and are carefully weighed to ensure the loading crew manages the weight distribution onboard. A correct distribution of fuel, travelers and cargo is essential for a well-balanced and efficient flight.

In the case of extra special loads, specific rules apply. “We use the terms valuables and vulnerables and different procedures apply to guarantee the safety of the consignment,” Beck Damkjær says. “Vulnerables covers all types of fragile cargo such as delicate drugs, product prototypes and sensitive electronics that have to be packed in accordance with specific temperature controls and other conditions.”

High-value consignments include things like the Hammershøi paintings, where strict security rules apply and an escort is required all the way from a special handling unit. These consignments have the same standard packaging and type of ID number as other consignments to avoid advertising the fact that there is something special about them.i c rules apply to high-value consignments. An escort is required from a special handling unit and the items are kept separate from other baggage and loads in the cargo hold. Photo: Rasmus Flindt Pedersen

In the cargo hold, special items are kept separate from baggage and other loads that could damage them and they remain under constant surveillance by security staff until the aircraft leaves the gate. From this point, the captain assumes responsibility for the consignment.

When the flight is over and the plane has landed again, specially trained staff supervise the onward travel of the items by logistics companies such as Møbeltransport Danmark Fine Art Logistics, in cooperation with SAS Cargo.

Elisabeth Gram Christensen, a manager from the Møbeltransport Danmark Fine Art team, was ready at Copenhagen Airport when the Hammershøi paintings returned home from their US tour. The paintings had been accompanied by a curator from the National Gallery of Denmark throughout the tour.

Photo: Rasmus Flindt Pedersen

“There are risks involved whenever you transport art and you need to plan and consider everything carefully,” says Christensen. “It’s about protecting our cultural heritage and minimizing the transport risks, and it’s imperative that everything is managed correctly. My job is to keep my eyes peeled and to take action if anything is not exactly as it should be.”

She checks the crates for broken seals or other signs that could indicate damage. When everything is given the OK, the crates are taken by forklift to a climate-­controlled vehicle for delivery back to the National Gallery where they will be acclimatized for 24 hours before being unloaded. This is done by art handlers from Møbeltransport Danmark at the museum.

Text: Lise Hannibal 

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