Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ART/WORK: Shipping News

While the pending conversation/interview about ART/WORK with Danielle Mund is percolating (see previous posting for her review), I would like to chime in on one of the topics in Bhandari and Melber's helpful book for artists, while we are on the topic.

There is much thought given to shipping art in ART/WORK: how to pack paintings and sculpture and what is the best way to ship things. There are even diagrams of how to build collars for paintings as well as charts comparing UPS and FedEx with art shippers (and hand delivering your work in a taxi). A cartoon by Kammy Roulner illustrates the section: Two men are standing around a sculpture, which consists of a living cat atop a tire (think Rauschenberg's "Monogram"), which is resting on two slats of wood. A hovering smiley face, helium filled balloon is tied to the cat's middle section. One of the men says to the other "Don't forget to pack some cat food when you ship this."

It would be neglectful of me to not mention a recent international shipping experience I had. This summer I was part of a show in the Czech Republic. I needed to ship over my life-size homeless self portrait sculpture (pictured below). I boxed him up into a coffin size container I made from cardboard and dragged him down to the local post office. The employees there said it was too large to ship so they provided me with the dimensions it needed to be. I cut the box down to about a quarter of the original size, repackaged and crunched "me" with all of my bedding and clothes down into something the size of a college room refrigerator.

When I brought it to the scale, I found out that the USPS no longer ships "surface" internationally (they do not profit from it) and that it would cost about $100 to ship. I went up to the UPS store a couple blocks away to see if they could ship it for less. They quoted me $800 and said FedEx would be about $1,200. So I brought it back to the post office and spent just under $100 to ship 20.5 lbs, which works out to roughly $4.80/lb. I also sent a box of books at the same rate for just over $80.

Everything was fine with the delivery, though the boxes arrived much earlier than I had anticipated...I was planning on the surface delivery to arrive a couple weeks, not a couple months ahead of time. The one problem was that I basically had to remake the sculpture from the compressed materials (pictured left, unboxed outside the gallery's front door and completed in the courtyard).

The money was not that big of a deal but it was an extra cost I could have avoided had I done some more research. When I returned to the United States my wife needed to send some gifts to her sister in Krakow so we went to a Polish agency near our home in New Jersey. It is the type of place you can get money wired, documents translated, airplane tickets...even a nanny. The agency ships anything, any size, to Poland for under 50 cents/lb and to neighboring countries for a multiple of that. My $180 of shipping could have cost me under $17 to Poland (where I would have needed to pick up the packages) and under $50 to the front door of the gallery in the Czech Republic. The price is so cheap because these agencies send over whole containers of items, which does take a few weeks.

Although there is a whole new set of risks with such an approach, this might be the perfect way for you to ship oversized and heavy objects. It would be wise to look into the diaspora agencies of roughly where you are going to send your work. They are everywhere in the major metropolitan areas.

It is very important to have everything set up for the end of a show and what you plan to do with your work, especially if you are not going to be around. In my case, when the show ended I was back in the United States but the only materials I used were my clothes, some blankets and chicken wire. The curator suggested we strip the form of the clothes and send them up to Prague where he would give them to homeless men. I loved the idea because it gave a whole other level to the work and would help someone out. I also suggested giving all the chicken wire to one of the local villagers for his garden. That was the plan but last I heard it was still sitting at the gallery and was probably simply tossed out.