Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bubble (w)Rap

Ahhhh, don't you love this season. So much art being shipped to so many places. Folks ship art all year long, it's true, but the fact that virtually the entire art world will descend on Miami in a few weeks makes this particular stretch each year especially joyous.

The usually cheery receptionist at the framers is audibly groaning when you ask for an update on the work you're waiting on. It takes a Navy SEAL team to track down the one person you must talk with at your art handlers. And seemingly the entire universe is conspiring against your sworn oath to have the artwork you're shipping packed and ready on time AND on budget this year.

One of the, er, joys of being a gallery with less than Gagosian-sized budgets for shipping is that you get to spend a good deal more quality time wrapping and crating work yourself. As I sit here writing, my back aches, my feet hurt, my hands are covered with cuts and scrapes and I'll be damned if I can remember what crate I put the screw gun in (nor how the hell I managed to close the crate I hope it's in without it, which means the screw gun is actually either lost in storage or in the trash or...grrr....).

I usually make another oath this time of year as well, under my breath at least. As much as I love our artists (and none of this applies to YOU, if you're's those other artists, really), I've taken to pledging with God as my witness, that I'll never even consider working with another artist who cannot produce evidence (in the form of a notarized document, supplied in triplicate) verifying at least 3 years experience as a senior art handler.

I kid...sort of. In the spirit of the season, let me offer, gently, these few things any artist might consider if you're wrapping your work for transfer from your studio to where it's being crated for shipping:

  1. Art shippers charge by volume. That one-inch deep piece you buried somewhere among those 10 inches of crumpled cardboard...the one you could probably sail across the room unwrapped like a frisbee and still not damage...that's probably just a tad bit of overkill. And yes, it is cool, the way your 20" x 16" painting becomes rather spherical after you've added the 17th layer of bubble wrap around it, but it's probably gonna travel just fine with fewer layers...even if someone accidentally dropped it...from the Space Shuttle.
  2. Speaking of Bubble Wrap: I know it's not free, has a shelf-life people! Those four grime-covered scraps you dug out of some know, the ones of varying bubble size, held together with at least 4 different types of tape, and covered with the remmants of at least three previous shipping labels...that's probably not the best wrapper for the work you've carried over to it in white gloves.
  3. The day the work is being collected/delivered is not the day to suggest a new (still wet) or larger piece is better than some other previously agreed on piece(s). Crates have been built by this point often. Wet work doesn't travel well. Budgets have been calculated (see item # 1).
  4. Instructions for installation/assembly...this is just a thought, mind you...should preferably be legible. There probably won't be pharamcists at the destination to interpret your doctor-esque handwriting.
  5. None of this should be seen as a reflection of your genius or how much your gallery loves your work. Seriously. No matter how much I grumble this time of year, it's the work, and only the work, that matters in the end. Also, it is indeed better to be safe than sorry. Still, do consider these tidbits, all the same... ;-)


Blogger Mark said...

Nothing like the sound of bubblewrap peeling off a layer of fresh paint.

11/17/2005 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Nothing like the sound of bubblewrap peeling off a layer of fresh paint.


like nails on a just want to grab your passport and head for the airport at that point...

11/17/2005 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

While I don't know if I can fairly claim the "senior" portion of the job description - I only did it for about two years, but I was the only preparator/framer/shipper on staff - I sympathize with your woes.

I would argue, however, that bubble wrap should be used at least three times. Assuming the artist or shipper hasn't prepped the bubble wrap for mummification (with clear packing tape; argh!), it's better to carefully remove the tape and place the bubble wrap somewhere clean, awaiting reuse. I know I'm just another damned tree hugger - my studio closet is stacked high with squares of bubble wrap, so I pay for it when I'm not prepping a shipment - but it is better for the environment and the wallet.

As for the whole wet painting issue...I've decided a majority of artists get off on the last minute crunch. If they can't add a still wet painting or recently varnished sculpture the day before the opening...well, it just ain't a show then, is it?!

11/17/2005 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I totally sympathize with the need (financially and morally) to reuse bubble wrap. I'm actually a fanatic about it, but there's a one tip that makes doing so more useful and hygenic. May I suggest, that rather than tape, folks consider Stretch Wrap. It's so much faster and easier to use than tape, it doesn't stick to the bubblewrap, leaving it perfectly reusable. It's cheap enough that you can mummify the work, thereby leaving the bubblewrap cleaner door-to-door, and you can easily write on the shrink wrap without touching the bubble wrap.

It's really every art handler's best friend.

11/17/2005 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

That's a great suggestion, Ed. I just discovered Stretch Wrap myself and it works well with anything, be it 2-D or 3-D. Thanks.

11/17/2005 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question. How do you find a gallery to include your work in their Miami show even when it's say November 17th? If you are happy to deliver and install the work yourself with sanitary bubble wrap. And you already got yourself set up with housing for the four nights. and you already made calls and emails for studio visits to no evail--is there anything you can do? It has been explained to me that important shows (like ps 1's greater new york) are in large part curated from Miami. got to get my work to the next level. Is there anything I can do?

11/17/2005 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I don't mean to be discouraging, but I'm gonna be honest: you need to initiate a relationship with a gallery long before two weeks before the fairs start. Even if you tried to do that already, that remains my best advice.

We have sometimes (athough less and less) taken work to a fair by artists we're not sure if we're going to work with. It does provide an opportunity to see how we feel about it (if you don't know after you've talked about it a few hundred times, you probably aren't the right gallery for that work), but it costs a gallery so much money to participate in a fair that more and more we're only investing in the artists we already represent.

And that's the key to why what you're asking is virutally impossible. Galleries spend a small fortune to be in a fair. It's not at all appropriate to expect them to spend that money to take a chance on your work. Maaybe, just maybe, they'd include your work if they knew about it well in advance, but it's not very likely they're gonna take you on at this juncture.*

Start now for 2006's fairs...develop a relationship with galleries whose program you are confident is a good match for your work (hint: I get letters every week from artists who say there work is right for our program when it's anything really do your homework).

One other note, there's no more sure-fire way to guarantee a gallery will never want to see you again than to take up time trying to introduce them to your work while they're trying to sell to collectors (even if you don't see any collectors, believe me, the dealers are not just sitting there waiting for new artists to come by...they're strategizing and/or taking a much needed break).

An art fair is generally NOT the place for an artist to approach a gallery. That's not to say a gallery might not approach you if your work is on exhibit and you're there (we do this often), but if you introduce yourself to a gallery at a fair, keep in mind that this is where they sell work first and discover it primarily from other dealers. In other words, don't whip out your portfolio.

We have a black list of artists who stood between us and the collector or curator we really wanted to speak to and only see once or twice a year.

This isn't meant to be offensive, but when you understand the number of dollars/hours we're spending for those opportunities, you'd understand, I'm sure.

*Then again, advice is worth what you pay for it. Always follow your gut. Just don't be surprised if approaching a gallery during a fair brings angry words in response.

Actually there's more, so I think I'll write a post on this tomorrow.

11/17/2005 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ouch. Can't wait to hear more tomorrow. I'm serious, it's great to get this kind of advice. Do you think that an artist that is not represented by another gallery should not attend the fair at all? Is it an awkard, silly thing to do? Or is it just that I need to keep my portfolio in my pants?

11/17/2005 04:25:00 PM  
Anonymous snidely snookered said...

By all means keep the portfolio in your pants. That way it will be appropriate for the grime layered bubblewrap.

11/17/2005 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


Recent posts have talked about fantasy auctions of Cy Twombly works, this one is about gallery practices, and tomorrow's seems to be about gallery representation, so I thought this would be a fair question:

I noticed that the other Twombly work sold by Sotheby's the other night, Untitled (Rome), says in its provenance it was "Acquired by the present owner directly from the artist circa 1962."

I'm interested to know what a gallery owner feels about that practice.

11/17/2005 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

yeah anonymous, play it cool, take your time. Edward is all over this action, when he says 'initiate a relationship' that's serious. People complain sometimes that someone got ahead because "It's all about who knows who." What I've seen often is that it's all about who takes the time and risk and trouble to cultivate relationships. It's a lot of work, outside of just art-making.

11/17/2005 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger patsplat said...

Bubbles out!

12/11/2008 04:31:00 PM  

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