by Maya Schonenberger
Have you ever wondered what it means when an exhibition form states ‘art work is insured? I for one, have a personal rule (which I think I will be ready to change now) not to apply to venues that do not provide insurance except if I am familiar with the place and I think I can judge the risk.
But what actually is the right procedure when we unpack a box and realize, oops instead of 12 pieces there are only 11? Or, why do we see a dusty foot print that is NOT part of the creation, or if a flat piece looks like a fiber sculpture from the museum of modern art? Or my favorite, and this did not happen to me, you go to the opening and there it is, one of your pieces is used as a tablecloth?
In the case of my missing piece, I contacted the venue immediately. No reaction. After being very persistent, finally a reaction from the other side: it must have happened during transport. Since the boxes looked perfectly fine to me when they arrived I did NOT take any pictures of them. I insisted there was ‘no extra space’ in the box when I unpacked, it looked like the box has been packed with only 11 pieces. At that point I did not get any reaction from the other side anymore, and when I called a tape did let me know ‘we are closed for vacation the whole month’. 4 weeks passed letting me wonder where my piece is, all the while I am also looking at packing materials such a nice pieces of cloth with OTHER artists’s names on it. Believe it or not, this made me mad in the beginning but by now I felt kind of good because it could mean my piece is at another artist’s home…. I did contact (thank God for Internet) the artists who’s materials I had, no they did not have my piece, yes, they also had other packaging material… to make a long story short, once the long vacation was over and I called (did I mention this was a very well known venue overseas) almost every day, they finally found my piece. It was in a kitchen cabinet. They blamed the volunteers (this is my all time favorite) and shipped it back. It was in good condition. The word insurance was not mentioned once from the other side during the whole process, and my question what happens if… was never answered. I much later learned, that another artist had her pieces arrived damaged, she never received any reimbursement
This week I received 2 boxes with 6 of my pieces. The outside of my boxes looked fine, I opened them and realized immediately that my art work is happily ‘floating’ around in the spacious box. Camera, pictures proof…. My stomach starts to crumble, my heartbeat and blood pressure rise. The first 4 pieces are fine, but NOT wrapped in my packaging material. Then comes my big piece… no cushioning on top, bottom and sides. My originally flat art work was turned into a fiber sculpture with donkey ears. The theme of my art piece is a yoga posture. The piece now looks like one! This time I had the situation documented. I e-mailed the venue IMMEDIATLEY, I am lucky it is US this time, I asked them to contact me immediately. Since I did not hear from them I called and asked if they received my e-mail. Yes they did…. They are very sorry, they do not know what happened, UPS maybe? No I told to them the box was fine, and I told them that the packaging material was missing. The next excuse was ‘a volunteer’… and then I had to hear that it was not easy to pack my art work. The venue is very sorry, so am I, only at the very end did I finally hear the words we have travel insurance…. but what exactly does that mean now? I am in the process of trying to restore my piece. I do not know at this point if that will be possible, neither do I know what actually will happen if I am not able to do so, but I will try to find out.
I am well aware that museums, galleries etc handle huge amounts of art pieces and most of the time they do an excellent job. The world is not perfect, things happen. But I feel that if something happens, the respect for the artists and his or her work is missing all too often. Why did I not get a short e-mail back immediately saying something like ‘OMG, we are very sorry, we will get back to you, it is crazy here today, I will contact you tomorrow’. That would have worked for me. Let the artist know that the work IS insured, and then discuss what needs to be done. We artists have to be very professional and respectful on so many levels, I think we can expect the same from the other sides as well.
Should I mention that I have to ship 23 pieces to a museum next week? No I am not nervous, it is me packing, but….