Deanna is obviously very careful about packaging her work – she makes up special foamcore boxes and wraps her work carefully in archival paper first to protect the delicate wax surfaces of her encaustic paintings. She was pretty unlucky to have a piece damaged.
I don’t want to sound as though I’m making excuses for the gallery – they should definitely have been more careful – but I do have some advice on avoiding this situation. Having packaged up loads of works as a curator, I’d strongly recommend that artists include a sheet of packing directions, especially if there are any special requirements for repacking the work. Don’t leave things to chance; spell it out in black and white. Wrapping up works to send back is a pig of a job: it’s boring and tedious and when you’re packaging up 20 or 30 pieces at the end of a show it’s often difficult to remember how it looked when it arrived. You also can’t guarantee that the people who unwrapped the work will be the ones repackaging it – at the Here Gallery we rely on volunteers and sometimes the people wrapping the work don’t have any art experience at all. What seems like common sense to an artist might not be so obvious to someone who isn’t an artist. Written directions make life a lot simpler for everyone, plus if the gallery doesn’t follow the instructions then you have more ammunition to complain to them.
Unfortunately not all artists are as meticulous as Deanna: I’ve unpacked work that I was amazed survived the trip through the postal system – work sandwiched between two ill fitting bits of cardboard, work that wasn’t well wrapped, even work that wasn’t protectively wrapped at all.
Work being sent anywhere should be properly wrapped in bubble wrap (and any other protective packaging that the work needs) before being placed in a strong, well-fitting box.
Please buy or make the correct size of box: don’t hack together several bits of cardboard. I know it’s good from an environmental point of view but bits of cardboard taped together are a nightmare to get into, even worse to reuse and they tend not to provide enough support to the work, especially around the edges. It’s OK to cut down a box that’s too large though.
With bubble wrap, you should use larger pieces rather than taping together smaller pieces – the later are horrible to reuse. If you’ve only just had enough bubble wrap to wrap your work, then the curator probably won’t have enough to securely re-wrap it because bubble wrap invariably gets damaged where it’s been taped. I know that money is an issue for all artists but please don’t skimp on protecting your precious work.
If you’re packing more than one piece in a single box, you’ll need plenty of packaging between them and you’ll also need to consider weight issues. For example, if you’re packing a lot of framed pieces then they’re usually better stacked upright rather than in a pile with one unfortunate piece on the bottom. Reinforcing the base of the box with extra cardboard can be a good idea when sending heavier work, although if the work is very heavy then you’ll need to use wooden packing crates.
Your box should also include: instructions on how to repack the box, a return address label (including postage if required), written instructions on how to install the piece (especially important for sculptural works) and any fittings needed to install the work. Obviously, you should make sure the box is properly taped shut but using too much tape on the box can actually increase the risk of damage because the person will have to use more force if it’s very difficult to open. Now mark your box to show which way is up. Boxes should also be marked ‘fragile, handle with care’ although frankly I’m not sure if that makes any difference to the way the post office treats them!
If I get all that, I’m in heaven.
Professionally packed work containing clear instructions and fittings lets the curator know that you respect and value your own work, so they should too. In addition, by making things easy for them, you also demonstrate that you’re courteous enough to care about their time. Knowing that I’m following the artist’s wishes and don’t have to sit around worrying about how a piece should be hung takes a lot of stress out of the process for me. Then all I have to decide is where it should be hung. Believe me, I much prefer that!