The 6 Foot Drop

“I always assume that the person unpacking/re-packing has never worked in a gallery before, that they are an 18-year-old trainee and it's their first day on the job.” 

An artist’s response to my query on packing and re-packing works of art for an exhibition.

In the recent past, I received an artists' book back from a show. It was in its original box, bravo! for matching the box to the artist’s work. Here, the problem was inside the box. The book sat atop a very thin sheet of bubble pack with no protection for its top or sides. I have no qualms in mentioning that the bottom had no protection either. I phoned the gallery and their response was “The gallery ships the books the same way they arrive! 

Of course, for security measures, I pack my books with no protection to survive USPS or UPS delivery. SURE!

Who oversees the procedures for return shipping? Anyone?

© 2017 Louise Levergneux

© 2017 Louise Levergneux

I don’t believe my book would have survived the six-foot drop the Saskatchewan Craft Council recommends for shipping artwork. If damage had occurred to my artists’ book, who would have been responsible?

© 2017 Louise Levergneux

“Do you feel a gallery should have insurance for damage, theft, and return shipping conditions”?

In my opinion, the gallery is also responsible for how it takes care of books/work while in their possession.

An experienced binder like Monique Lallier insists on having her bindings and boxes exhibited under glass. Even with her demand one of her gorgeous boxes got a corner banged up. How do we limit these type of accidents or carelessness from happening?

Artists, librarian, curators, and staff should read the article Proper Care and Handling of Books by the Library of Congress.

This brings us to insurances! “Who should pay the insurance costs?

This year I made a conscious decision to no longer exhibit my work in galleries without the artists work insured for the duration of a show. According to a Boise gallery, an invited artist should not refuse to exhibit hundreds of dollars worth of work for lack of insurance on the gallery’s part. Most galleries make sure with their contract that they are not responsible for any stolen/damaged artwork. I realize we always take a chance when exhibiting, but the galleries/curators need to take responsibility. How, would galleries survive without us?

One can’t place all galleries in the “I will never exhibit there again” category. 

A few galleries are superb at taking responsibilities, I have found 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland and the MCBA in Minnesota, both respectful of book artists and their work.

© 23 Sandy Gallery

© 23 Sandy Gallery

Food for thought! Make sure you are content with the understanding between the gallery and the artist. Read the contract carefully; if you don’t like what’s written, say no to the invitation. Better not to exhibit than to be sorry. 

“Don’t forget during your decision-making that there is a tendency for the artist to be the last person considered when people are thinking about money and art”—Cathryn Miller

Be aware and make good decisions... Enjoy your exhibitions without regrets!



Was a book/binding/artwork of yours ever damaged or stolen while on display as part of an exhibition?

As an artist, one has to deal with exciting situations and some not so nice experiences. Lessons learned have jaded me from exhibiting. It is difficult to let go of your prized possessions for a month or more. One never knows what happens on the premises of a gallery.

Are you responsible for your books while alone in the darkness of a gallery?

I had an acrylic painting damaged back in 1984. I won my case in court and the city paid for the damages. If the gallery took serious responsibility for the artwork while dismantling an exhibition, they could save time and money for everyone involved.

I saw the inside of a courtroom for the second time when an owner of a Toronto gallery stole nine of my collages and drawings and shipped them to Korea while in his possession. I don’t know what happened to these pieces. Did he sell them? If you can’t trust the gallery owner, who can you trust? I won my case in Small Claims Court, but retrieving the money was another matter—never did, since jurisdiction did not extend to Korea!

By 2005, I picked up lots of information on how to do business—I thought—till I took part in an ARLIS conference after being invited to display a volume of City Shields in New York City. Several phone calls later and an amazing response to my inquiry, I found the reason for the un-returned book.

"The bad news is someone stole your volume of City Shields from the exhibition hall.
What was the good news, I asked?
It was loved enough to steal."
What the... is this for real?
The organization felt it was a great compliment!!! WOW! For me, it was a financial loss!

Not too long ago on the BookListServ, I read about similar experiences other artists have gone through. I communicated with them to find out their account. Some stories were positive and others were costly. Lucky or sensible?

Preparing for a show demands you ask many questions and more questions!
Who's responsible for the insurance costs?
Are galleries responsible for the art work displayed in the space?
Who should pay for damages during the show?...

Mary Kritz is an artist in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Exhibiting her books were positive experiences until showing a book in a private gallery. This disappointing situation happened when her book was damaged during the exhibit set-up. At the vernissage, the owner, (while in front of the crowd), embarrassed Mary by informing her that the book had “fallen apart”. As if Mary exhibited a book with an already damaged page with a detached corner. Mary mentioned she would repair the book the next day. At her return to the gallery, Mary learned the owner himself repaired the book without permission. Was he a binder? Did he use the proper materials? What right did he have to touch this artists’ book?

“I think the situation has happened to all of us artists at one point or other,” says Cathryn Miller from Saskatchewan.

It took two hours to repair her piece In Winter after being damaged in a touring exhibition. Cathryn was paid for the repair by the Saskatchewan Craft Council who insure all work while in their possession. The work is still salable which is great!

© 2017, Cathryn Miller, In Winter

© 2017, Cathryn Miller, In Winter

© 2017, Cathryn Miller, In Winter damaged during exhibition

© 2017, Cathryn Miller, In Winter damaged during exhibition

© 2017, Cathryn Miller, In Winter with smudge marks

© 2017, Cathryn Miller, In Winter with smudge marks

The Saskatchewan Craft Council ships touring exhibitions by commercial transport, the Council recommends that all works be packed so that the container can be dropped upside-down from a height of six feet without damaging the contents. What a risk factor!

Cathryn insisted on being paid for books damaged when a commercial gallery returned books with non-removable price stickers that adhered to the back. Who thought of that one, I wonder?

“I have exhibited at galleries who do not provide insurance but in those cases, I exhibit work I can afford to lose, comments Cathryn”.
“Very few galleries cover stolen work, so one has to think about what security measures are provided (vitrines, staffing, location, etc.) and we need to make a case-by-case decision.”

Cathryn writes long and descriptive directions for unpacking and re-packing art work for shipping. How difficult can it be to re-pack a book with its original box and filling? But, wait can they find the same box? What is the gallery’s best practices for keeping boxes and fillers connected to the book?

© Cathryn Miller, instructions for unpacking and re-packing In Winter

© Cathryn Miller, instructions for unpacking and re-packing In Winter

© Cathryn Miller, instructions for unpacking and repacking In Winter, part 2

© Cathryn Miller, instructions for unpacking and repacking In Winter, part 2

© Cathryn Miller, instructions for unpacking and repacking In Winter, part 3.  These instructions are fantastic, every artist should be this dedicated to their work!

© Cathryn Miller, instructions for unpacking and repacking In Winter, part 3.

These instructions are fantastic, every artist should be this dedicated to their work!

Alice Simpson who brings her ability of drawing and brush skills to paper talks about her experience with a damaged book. Alice’s books are hand-painted and mostly unique books, they are colourful and whimsical, and are of interest to international dance collectors.

BALLROOM, (a one-of-a-kind hand painted book Alice created in 1994), was damaged somewhere along the recent past. The gallery’s signage description had been carelessly Scotch-taped on the back cover, attached to the delicate paper used to bind the book.

When I attempted to remove the tape, it pulled the paper off. Unfortunately, I have no memory or record of where the book was damaged. It was returned a while ago, and I never opened the wrapping. If I had, I would have immediately notified the curator, and complained. What would they have offered to do? I have no idea. The book, the basis for my novel of the same name, is not for sale but now is damaged forever.

Forever is a long time! This subject matter is too important not to write more.

To be continued...