In my last blog post, I commented on the subject of responsible galleries. I communicated with Laura Russell from 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, a fantastic place to do business. A gallery and owner that respect the work and the artist.
Louise — Have you ever had an artists' book damaged or stolen while on display in an exhibition (as an artist yourself or as the owner of the gallery)?
Laura — Sadly, yes. But, in 10 years only twice, which I think is a pretty good record! One book was stolen during an off-site letterpress printers fair here in Portland. Luckily that one came back a few weeks later in an unmarked package with a very apologetic note. That book is now a favorite in my personal collection as I had already paid the artist for it by the time it arrived back home. Another book was dropped and had a corner of its wooden box broken. Luckily, the customer loved the book and was happy to buy it, anyway.
Louise — Lessons learned through the years have jaded me from exhibiting my artists’ books. One never knows what happens on the premises of a gallery. Can you explain the secret life of a book during the month-long display on the premises at 23 Sandy Gallery?
Laura — All books are treated as fine art, not just books. Every customer who visits the gallery gets a friendly lecture about how to handle books and is asked to clean their hands if they want to handle the books. Not every book can be handled by the general public. If the book is delicate or expensive, we post a “Do Not Touch” sign on the book but are happy to show off the book ourselves if anyone is interested in viewing.
Louise — What is the unpacking/re-packing policy for books at 23 Sandy Gallery?
Laura — All books are inspected for any shipping damage, or existing flaws, or other concerns upon unpacking. Any problems are documented, with photos, and a note is immediately sent to the artist to document condition upon arrival. Upon re-packing, all books are again inspected to make sure no damage was incurred during the exhibition. We keep extensive notes about the condition for documentation purposes. If there is damage, the gallery would automatically pay the artist for the book.
Louise — Are the descriptive directions for unpacking and re-packing artwork for shipping, if any included in the box, read by staff.
Laura — Yes. Always, of course.
Louise — What’s the gallery’s work ethic for tracking the original packaging for the return of books?
Laura — The gallery does not have time to track every single package that ships out of here. We ship many, many packages every week. We recommend artists activate “shipping notifications” with their respective shipping company to get automatic email notification of shipment, delivery exceptions, and delivery.
Louise — Do the gallery/staff have best practices for the proper care and handling of books?
Laura — Yes. Full training is provided to every gallery staff or volunteer on proper book handling.
Louise — Does the 23 Sandy Gallery carry insurance for work while in their possession, i.e., is the gallery responsible for the artwork on display? How does 23 Sandy Gallery approach reimbursing artists for a damaged piece?
Laura — All books while in 23 Sandy’s possession are indeed insured. In the case of damage, our insurance policy would reimburse the artist for the “wholesale” cost of the book, which is the amount the artist would have received if the book had sold, which is 60% of the retail value.
Louise — What does the 23 Sandy Gallery think of “foreign” stickers adhered to books for any reason, i.e., inventory numbers or tracking numbers?
Laura — We would never attach any sticker to any book for any reason.
Louise — Are there any security measures (vitrines, staffing, location, etc.) on the premises for artists who prefer their work to be under glass?
Laura — We have a glass bookcase for any books that the artist requests not be handled. Or, we use a “Do Not Touch” sign as noted above.
Louise — How does the gallery deal with maintaining proper environmental conditions for books while on display?
Laura — Gallery conditions are not controlled in the same way museums control environmental conditions. Not possible in a retail storefront environment.
As with most of us, change is in the air and if you read the last newsletter of 23 Sandy Gallery you know that Laura has made a big decision. Laura is closing the operation side of the gallery and taking a year sabbatical from exhibitions. She is looking forward to finding studio time for her own books.
I wish Laura good times in her studio at Simply Books. I will miss the opportunities of showing my artists' books at 23 Sandy Gallery, especially working directly with Laura.
Many thanks, Laura and enjoy your new world!