10 bits of bubble wrap, all patched together

January 23, 2021
by Susan J Mumford

 A decade ago, I was working on my M.A. in Arts Management at Birkbeck College and it was time for my class to do internships. Fellow students  would be attaining experience in theatres and museums. As I was already a  paid assistant in a London art gallery, I wanted something more. The journey I subsequently travelled brings to mind my favourite childhood  poem by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I  took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

I put together a proposal to curate an  exhibition, nowadays called a &lsquo;pop-up.&rsquo; The project  was given the go-ahead and I started planning.</div>

I offered the show to a New Yorker  artist friend who accepted straightaway.&nbsp; He was to finish a  series of drawings and paintings and would have a mate arrange the  crating and shipping of pieces. Boy, we didn&rsquo;t have a clue on  the latter!

After leafing through spaces to hire in  printed publications, I confirmed that the show would be held in the  basement of an existing gallery in Park Walk, Chelsea. Much to my  surprise, no spaces had taken the name The Chelsea Gallery, so I  provided this in listings.

I won’t go into much detail  about the challenges we faced in presenting drawings without any budget  for frames. Let&rsquo;s just say that my solution involved copper  pipes, sheets of acrylic and bull dog clips which gave an industrial  presentation in keeping with the images and also, thankfully, kept the  paper intact.

The biggest hurdle was that we needed  the art pieces. The morning of the private view, we discovered the  reason why the crates had not yet arrived. They were stuck in  customs. I spent six hours on the telephone talking with customs  brokers and couriers, and learned about paying VAT on art  imports.

It soon became clear that the pieces  would not arrive before the private view commenced – however at a push,  they might be delivered before it ended. So I  planned for an action-packed unveiling during the  opening. And goodness me, it was terrific when the paintings eventually  arrived. We uncrated and hung the pieces, wine glasses in hand and to  cheers all around.

Ultimately, as with so many speculative  commercial art exhibitions, I lucked out. An art  collecting couple so happened to pop into the gallery on that rainy  spring evening and made an offer on one of the large paintings. Not  having prepared how to negotiate, the artist and I gave far too big a  discount, but nonetheless, the show broke even.

The particularly ridiculous moment  arrived 10 days later at the end of the event, when the couple was  collecting the piece. We hadn’t thought about climbing down the mountain, in that we  didn’t have packing materials on site. The gallery  wouldn’t give us any of their bubble wrap, and we only had 10 small scrappy bits. These were taped together, stretched round the  painting, and the messy bundle was handed over. My lasting memory of  that afternoon is watching the painting being driven down Park Walk, sticking out of the sunroof, bubble wrap blowing in the  wind.

Had I not learned so many lessons in  that work experience adventure, I wonder how I would have pulled off my  next show three years later, a pop-up over two floors that was rated  number one exhibition of the week in  The Times. 

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Susan J Mumford

SUSAN J MUMFORD is a serial entrepreneur in the art market. She ran a gallery in Soho, London, from 2006-11, which was followed by the creation of the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD) in 2009, an international network with multiple chapters. In 2012 she launched Be Smart About Art, an online-accessible professional development platform. Then in 2018, she embarked upon her latest enterprise, ArtAML, which unites technology and art market know-how to help dealers keep dealing and buyers keep buying in the face of anti-money laundering legislation that hit the art market in 2020.

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