Thursday, July 21, 2011

Art A Dangerous Business: Part Two

Galleries, while normally a place of joy and inspiration, can also be a lawyer’s meal ticket if reasonable thought is not given to every day activities. It’s important for any gallery to have a plan for risk prevention.

In part one of this blog I shared what I felt were a few salient points in the everyday life of an art dealer and some common sense things to remember in the gallery work place. Part two expands on these issues to protect everyone working in and visiting your gallery.

As a gallery owner the largest and potentially most dangerous workspace is your exhibit space. Here are some pitfalls to avoid (these also apply to artist’s in their studio setting as well):

On more than one occasion I have had an artist show up with their entire body of work, much of it still wet (you know who you are!). A multitude of wet paintings in a small exhibit space can quickly fill the room with fresh paint odors. Potent fumes can cause some sensitive clients and employees to have problems. This is also true when you’re touching up a wall before a show. The simple addition of fans, opening doors to improve ventilation and common sense are your best lines of defense. Ask your employees if fumes bother them, if it does, move them from the area or hang after working hours, (remember you wanted to be a gallery owner). As a courtesy to your clients make them aware of any fresh paint odor before they enter the exhibit space allowing them to make the decision to enter or not. They always thank me.

Artists please realize when you are transporting wet oil paintings in your closed car there are potent fumes; please be very aware of the need for good ventilation. This also applies to your studio space where you should always have adequate ventilation, both mechanical and structural.

Potential injuries can also occur during the hanging process. Hanging a piece of art requires sharp nails that can be projectiles not only for you but also your art. Never place a painting directly underneath you as you place the hook and nail. Hammers fall and nail slip at high rates of speed. I know of paintings that have had a nail puncture the canvas in just this way; even elbows have been known to go through Picassos, accidents happen.

Nails can flip into an eye when hammered into a wall and lodge directly into the globe. I did see this once as a physician working the emergency room. You can require your employees to wear goggles but this probably isn’t practical and while this injury will rarely be an issue; simply have the discussion of what can potentially happen and the best way to avoid an accident. It never hurts to document these discussions. Nails should be gently hammered in, no hard forceful blows, as this is how you can potentially flip a nail.

Another area of potential danger is packing with blown foam. We have our employees wear goggles and gloves when using blown foam packs. You are mixing chemicals that react. If a bag ruptures during the process our employees must immediately notify us after they have followed the emergency guidelines for exposure. An emergency eye wash station is a good idea; we have them available in both galleries. Sawdust, chemicals, and small metal shavings are always a risk.

Remember when you hang a show with both paintings and sculpture you need to think about crowd movement and traffic flow. Backing into the sharp point of a sculpture or pushing over heavy pieces is always possible. I always check heavy art pieces to see if they could be tipped over by kids or clumsy clients/employees/or even a distracted gallery owner. The more precarious or heavy the object the closer I try and get the piece nearer to the ground or against a wall where it’s harder to run into.

Ladders are another potential source of injury. Gallery staff are like construction workers, remember that before you let them climb even a footstool. You need decent footwear, not high heals. Two people are better when hanging large paintings, climbing high ladders or lifting heavy sculpture. Never use chairs to stand on, it seems like common sense but believe me there are people reading this right now cringing; they know I’m talking about them! Get a good safe ladder; it pays off in the long run. We have a manual on ladder safety and our employees must read and sign off. If you’re saying to yourself, “I’m a gallery not a construction zone,” think again. These tips will protect your valuable staff and your business.

Finally when moving very heavy objects use a lift. This will keep anyone from bending over incorrectly and injuring their back. A professional lift is a must; I have 2, one for each of my galleries. We use Dandy lifts and although they cost around $1000 they allow you to move objects up to 1700 lbs depending on the model. Just one injury to you or your staff alone will pay for this important piece of equipment.

Bottom line, if you consider your gallery a closed construction zone and treat it as such you have just cut your risk for your valuable employees, your clients and yourself.

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