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Saturday, October 20, 2018
The Logistics of Good Art
I was working on a very large sculpture (12 feet high by 5 feet wide). But the width was only a few inches deep. Before the piece was even finished it was requested to be in an upcoming show. To that point I had spent all of my time working on the aesthetics and messaging of the piece. For artists this is the most important part of any piece of art. Its why the art is made in the first place.
But once it was decided that it would be in a show, a whole new set of problems arose. Thus far the pieces to the sculpture (4 in total) had merely been leaning up against one wall of the studio. There had not been a reason to consider logistics. Up until that point I figured it would just screw into a wall that it rested on. Now this simple plan was trashed. How could I be so stupid as to not consider this vital aspect of the art?
Without enough facts, I was left with a lot of concerns. Was there a wall large enough to support it? If there was, could screws be placed in that wall to hold it in place? If the wall was cement as opposed to wood or drywall, how could I put screws into it? What if there wasn't a wall? What if the piece were required to stand on its own? This wasn't like a painting where it could propped on an easel. This was a massive piece of art that could easily break if it fell over.
My mind went into overdrive. I considered every aspect of the sculpture and cussed a bit under my breath at all the people who told me when I was growing up that I would need math when I became an adult. Math would probably help right now. But having flunked even the most basic math course in high school, I was left with the artists mind to figure out the problem.
This got me thinking about the fact that we as artists often don't consider something as fundamental as logistics. We just assume that if we create it, it'll be fine. Others will figure out the details.
In this case the coordinator for the show was in Australia and I was in New Orleans. Even though the show would be here, there was not enough facts to go on. I couldn't rely on the show to figure out the answers. If I did, there would be last minute chaos and short cuts that might take away from the art. I had to come up with a solution that could be adapted to any situation. There was only one clear fact. The dimensions of the art would not change.
After several days of thought, I finally thought I'd come up with a basic plan that might work. I called it my frame within a frame plan. First I constructed a simple 5 foot frame out wood that was 3 inches deep. The frame was then placed behind the pieces of the sculpture, hidden from view. The individual pieces were then attached using L brackets to the frame. This made everything stand up. But their was still a stability problem. The whole piece could fall on someone. So I placed 3 very heavy ceramic bricks at the base of the inner frame. This weighted it enough that it was stable. Because it only added 3 additional inches of depth to the piece, it could be placed against a wall still, or even draped with a sheet to hide the inner workings. And the whole piece could be unscrewed and transported in parts to the show location without any difficulty.
I don't want to belittle the details. Honestly this was incredibly hard to put together. I had to consider the weight, the size, the stability, the ease or difficulty of putting it together before the show started. I had to think through both the steps for putting it together and taking it apart. Most important I had to come up with a solution that in no way took away from the art itself. Like a good magician I had to make sure that the logistics were hidden from the naked eye. If the viewer spent more time figuring the mechanism and little time on the art and the messages within that art, then I'd failed totally.
As I said before, we as artists sometimes forget about these kinds of things and the result is that it takes away from what we create.
Several years back just before my first solo show, a close friend of mine looked at a sculpture sitting on a shelf that was going to be part of the show and said "put felt pads on the bottom". My first instinct was to ask why bother when no one would be looking at the bottom. "Two reasons" he replied. "First you don't want it to scuff the surface of wherever the buyer might put it. Second is elegance. Even the parts no one looks at you want to have a finished off elegant look." He was right. I'd not considered the logistics of the piece thoroughly. The base was cement. It could very well scuff a nice surface. Adding $2.00 worth of 1" felt pads to the bottom did nothing to take away from the sculpture and did everything to add a simple touch of finished off elegance to it. It was an important lesson for me.
Artists think in images. We can easily forget necessity in our quest for beauty. But if we want others to see our work then we must think about the necessary aspects of showing that art.
You may think your immune to this if you are a painter that works only on a framed canvas. But even painters need to think about logistics. We are coming into an age of art where we cannot rely on a gallery to hang and show our work. We often have to show our work in new ways. What if you wanted to show your work in an office setting? Or at a Pop Up art show? What about in a park where it might be windy?
I did a Pop Up show once where a bad wind storm kicked up an hour before the show and began sweeping the art off its easels. I remember an outdoor art show once here in New Orleans which was a night show, lit beautifully in a beautiful courtyard. But no one had not taken into consideration that it was termite season and there is nothing termites like better than lots of lights. This was a case of having to consider fast retreat of both yourself and your art.
The point is that there a thousand variations of horror stories that might effect your art whether its a painting or a sculpture. Thinking through the logistics before hand gives you some flexibility and also makes you look like the professional you are.
Be ready. Think. Don't just create.