Broken < Deep Thought Thursday

Kim Bruce, Ink Pot
Kim Bruce's piece, Ink Pot, was damaged during a gallery hanging. Encaustic, 4.5 x 4 inches. ©2010 The Artist

Have you ever shown at a venue that broke or damaged one of your artworks and didn't offer to remunerate you for the loss?
What did you do?

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39 thoughts on “Broken < Deep Thought Thursday”

  1. That’s horrible! If it was under their care I’d consider them responsible for any damages. I’ve never had that experience personally but would be very upset at a damaged frame alone nevermind damaged artwork.
    The galleries that I show at have been pretty good when it comes to handling work “so far”. I’m definitely interested to hear from artists who have ad this experience and how they dealt with it.

  2. Yes, I have had the experience of broken sculpture at gallery spaces. The first two pieces, the gallery owner paid me my share, which felt better. I remember seeing someone fondle one of those pieces. I was too shy to introduce myself as the artist and encourage her to go ahead and buy it. When it broke I was very sad that I had not encouraged her to take it home and love it.
    Another time, a valuable piece was broken at a weekend goddess art expo. No compensation, and I did not have my own insurance. No recourse. I made the decision then to only show in venues where the work was carefully and properly displayed.

  3. A small painting of mine was lost from a gallery I was in– but they did compensate me for the piece. In fact, the painting later resurfaced and was sold and the gallery ended up paying me twice for the same piece. I had to bring it to their attention. 🙂
    On the other hand, my mother (also an artist), was showing her work at a local restaurant when it burned to the ground. She lost 6 paintings. While they did have insurance, they never compensated her for her loss. A reminder for emerging artists…restaurants can be a good venue to show your work but there can be a big risk!

  4. This has happened to me. In one instance the gallery paid me, but like Carla, I was sad that this was the “end of the line” for that work. It was part of a series and now it was gone, and I can not list it as being in a collection or show it again. I did not have adequate photos of the piece- and that is another lesson.
    With a different art broker who repeatedly damaged my work I finally quit showing my work with her. I put up with it for a while because she has a high profile venue. I slowly came to understand that the disclaimer in our contract stating that she is not responsible for theft or damage also meant she did did not value the work enough to handle it carefully.

  5. Julie Kaldenhoven

    Yes, at a solo showing, a volunteer handyman backed into one of my paintings with a ladder, tearing a big rip in it and doing some minor damage to an adjacent frame. When the gallery (a small-town artist-run place) called to tell me the news, they immediately asked if I had insurance. Now, I don’t know about how art insurance works in the US, but in Canada it is very expensive and from what I hear, impossible to get, unless you are a well-collected artist, such as Robert Genn. They admitted that they didn’t have insurance because of the cost, so what does that say? I wrote them a letter indicating that the issue was not one of insurance, but of simple courtesy. If I entered someone’s residence and through obvious carelessness, damaged their property, would I not be under a certain obligation to make amends? In the end, they agreed to pay for the cost of my materials, which worked to about $100. I will never show at this gallery again, for several other reasons besides this incident. Expensive lesson learned – if the gallery’s policy is “you’re on your own”, then you are. Incidentally, if the Kim Bruce mentioned in the article is from around my part of the world (Edmonton, Alberta), then I own one of her artworks.

    1. No kidding Julie which piece!
      I’m down just out side of Calgary so I must be…or maybe it’s Kim Bruce the potter (a well respected Calgary Potter who shares my name)?
      Either way love small worlds.

    2. Julie Kaldenhoven

      Hi Kim,
      Must be you! Thought you were from Edmonton area. The piece is Seamstress – the one you donated to Profiles auction last year. White on white. Love it. Who knew there were two Kim Bruce’s? And both subscribers to Alison’s group. Anyway, Seamstress sits in my livingroom. Love your work in general – you are very talented.

    3. Yes it is me, I loved that piece! Profiles is a great gallery, I showed there 2007 and I support them with donation pieces when ever I can. Nice to know the work found a good home. This is very cool, I would like to see your work sometime too. Do you have a website?

    4. Julie Kaldenhoven

      No solo website yet (me bad), but you can see some of my work on I have a couple of pieces in the Art Rental at the Art Gallery of St. Albert (can’t get used to that long name). They are one of the galleries that takes good care of art in their possession.

  6. I work in assemblage made from found objects and discarded, broken things. So, I am quite fortunate if something does break or comes undone that usually a little bit of paint or glue can fix it.
    I have done quite a few group shows here in the Burlington area. Almost every where gallery has you sign a waiver for loss or damage. As an artist, I don’t have insurance to replace or restore my work. (Although, I know it is a good idea.) It is also a REALLY good idea to know what the gallery’s policy is on damages ahead of time. Because accidents do happens. For example, I was showing in a local juried show. When my piece was being hung, the assistant accidentally broke it.. I was travelling in Asia for my day job. Thank god my husband was able to come to my rescue and repair the piece for it could be shown. But that gallery, was not going to pay for the repair or assistant in the fix. Life lessons learned the hard way.

  7. Kate Klingensmith

    I once had a set of brooches that were part of an exhibition put on by a well known American institution. The exhibition traveled through the US and overseas for about 5 years. When I got the pieces back, it was evident that a poor repair job had been done on the back to resolder a finding back on. I contacted the institution and I got some money back, probably about worth half of the value I had on the piece. It’s something I could repair and restore. But at this time in my life, I simply don’t have the interest. When I do look at venues however, I do consider whether they have insurance. This topic has me thinking about looking into a rider on my renters policy.

  8. I am very big on contracts with any venue I show in. If I don’t have one I know that more than likely I am on my own if a piece is lost or damaged. The other part of having a contract is understanding what it says. I have found that places that are really interested in showing my work will make changes if I give them a reasonable objection to parts of their contract. I do live in the US and I do carry insurance for up to $15,000.00 loss but a show can easily go over that amount. If the gallery isn’t willing to cover the value of my work while it is in their possession then I will most likely not show there. Or if I do I know I am taking a risk. I really believe in hashing all this out before I give out my work so that we both are clear on what risks we are each assuming. So much easier to work out before there is a problem rather than in an adrenaline filled crisis. It is just better for over all business relationships. I have burned too many bridges in the past learning that if I take responsibility for taking care of business I don’t end up with bridge burning situations in the end.

    1. Ann: Agreed! Work it out IN ADVANCE. It’s your responsibility as a good businessperson.
      Knowing you, I’m sure you’re a tough negotiator. I wish I could teach that to others.

  9. I have insurance for my studio and for work in transit, but it doesn’t cover the actual value of the art (apparently they have to be independently appraised by a dealer for that, not realistic for me) just the cost of materials. I still show in small venues but I don’t put the big “important” pieces there. So far nothing bad has happened, touch wood.

  10. As Ms. Cunningham points out, contracts are good. Verbal contracts are not the paper they are printed on.
    I’ve not suffered any serious losses of work (yet), but I’ve never regretted having a formal contract. Most useful for clarification of diverging memories of agreements.

    1. Skip: Also, talking face to face about the contents of the contract is helpful. Actually seeing an understanding in someone’s eyes is more meaningful than reading a signature.

  11. After a tour of schoolchildren damaged every assemblage piece of mine at a gallery, I wasn’t notified until I came to pick the work up after the show closed. The gallery manager took me back in the kitchen nervously, and mentioned that “there had been some slight damage to a few pieces.” It took me 6 months to repair what could be repaired, and created a bad feeling about the gallery. I now ask to see the actual insurance coverage, or if it’s not available, I write an addendum to the gallery contract, having the gallery state what coverages they have for my work in the event of theft, damage, fire, loss, etc. i have the gallery owner sign off on it. A gallery manager may or may not be a legal spokesperson for the coverage. now – no grey areas.

    1. Linda: Egad! EVERY piece? Those people have no business having schoolchildren in the gallery if they can’t control them.

  12. Not exactly damaged, but I had a large painting stolen from a gallery.
    On the up side, there was a newspaper article about the theft and the people who bought in on the street for a “too good to be believed” price saw the article and returned it to the gallery.
    Down side was that they only paid $75.00 for it. Really? $75 for a framed 24×36 framed oil painting? Very sad.

    1. Bev: It’s not the work, it’s the seller. Someone was desperate for money and the buyers sensed that. They’re not going to pay hundreds of dollars for something on the street.
      So nice to hear of their honesty!

  13. Yes, I’ve also worked at shows and galleries where items got damaged (accidentally of course!). Pretty much every gallery I’ve shown with, and especially juried competitions, state that the artist must have their own insurance. So I do. I’ve had one painting completely lost, the gallery never found it. I was upset, but looking back I just realise it was a cost of business. One painting lost in 12 years isn’t bad! I’ve had a few paintings with minor injuries that I’ve fixed (the varnish protects the paint surface and 99% of the time the damage has been to the varnish layer only). I understand how these things happen, especially at busy events like art fairs where a lot of art is being moved and handled in a very hectic environment. The best moment I had was when a gallery owner was horrified that a bit of white paint or something had gotten on an all-blue painting of mine. She felt so bad, we unwrapped it together, and it was a bit of lint that stuck well to the varnish from heat of the gallery lights but came off with a gentle rub. 🙂 (she hadn’t wanted to touch the surface) A good laugh.
    The thing most artists don’t know about with insurance is that they will pay out the artist/wholesale price (half the retail) AND they have the right to keep the artwork (essentially they’ve purchased it, and can resell or destroy it) AND you have to prove the claimed value with past sales receipts or auction records. This is pretty standard as any insurance goes.
    At the end of the day, read the contract or have a contract. The artists I’ve had to pacify as a gallery worker are the ones who simply didn’t read the contract. (and exhibition insurance is not expensive in the UK, well under £100 a year from

    1. Tina: Thanks for sharing your experience. The lint story is priceless, but every artist should read that second paragraph. Thinking I need a guest post about it. Hmmm. Anyone?

    1. The Queen of “never apologize.” Thanks for reminding us of that, Cynthia. Every time I apologize for something that doesn’t need an apology, I think of you.

  14. Pingback: Damaged Work - Kim Bruce

  15. I probably should tell you all what I did – I took it on the chin.
    There were extenuating circumstances with the people involved with this particular show and sometimes you have to take it on the chin. It was an accident and the gallery assistant responsible actually cried (me too).
    The gallery didn’t offer compensation which took me aback as there was a contract and there was insurance. It would have been nice to at least have the offer which I could have turned down.
    While I still prefer the original piece I was able to make a repair of sorts but it is a whole new piece. I have before and after images at and of course you’ve seen the damage in the image above.

    1. Kim: Thank you for sharing that! So nice to see those two images side by side.
      All: I hope you’ll look at the Before & After pics Kim has shared.

  16. Unfortunately it did happen to me, too – several times.
    In an exhibition in Germany, somebody left a window open and the rain damaged my digital print – the full price was paid by their insurance. That was great, since i could still reprint the work.
    Another time, a university gallery from the US shipped my artworks back to me (to Namibia) and did not pack the works properly, they just stuck it into a courier cardboard roll. The works got damaged, and so did the works inside and after many emails they finally send me a check for a laughable amount (about 3 percent of the selling price).
    At my last exhibition in Namibia, an artwork just disappeared. But after many phone calls and letters, they finally paid me out from their pockets (they did not have their own insurance). I felt it was a decent gesture, but also still have the same sadness and frustration, some people have described above – it is the end of the work, and strange to not know what happened to it.
    Here in Namibia galleries unfortunately are not professional and we do not have the luxury to say you just do not exhibit at a gallery again, since there are not many choices and they are all equally unaware of professional handling or ethics. So you just have to take the risk if you want to exhibit (insuring your own artwork is not possible here.) And hope and pray that it does not get damaged or stolen.

    1. Imke: Thank you for sharing your perspective as an artist in Namibia.
      I’m sure what is true for you is also true of other artists who live in remote places – far from large cities – even in the US and Canada. They have galleries that are operating on a shoestring budget and not at the professional level.

  17. Time does make what we percieve at the time to be disasters fade into distant memory.
    I complete forgot about the damage that happen to work of mine coming back from a gallery in New York state in 2007.
    The gallery for some reason shipped my work back FEDEX GROUND! Cheapest for them I guess. Me, I used 2 different art shippers to the tune of almost $900 to get it there. Anyway, the work made a remarkable journey around the USA until it finally arrived at the Canadian border. Where it was held hostage for duty, but that’s another story. When it did finally arrive on my door step the crates were smashed and all 4 works were damaged.
    This is a story with a happy ending though. The gallery fought tooth and nail with Fedex for the insurance. After considerable work on their part they sent me a cheque and not only that they sent a good quanity of encasutic paint in order for me to make repairs.

  18. I’ve had 2 things break at the same gallery/art center. The first time they said the sculpture fell off the wall leaving it in pieces and unrepairable. Then a few months ago I had a sculpture (consisting of 2 pieces) in a juried show. One of the pieces got knocked over by the guy that installs the art. I was able to piece it back together for the show but then I felt like it was less than perfect.They called me and apologized profusely but no compensation was offered to me. It’s usually in the show’s contract that they are not responsible for any damages suffered during the show, so I didn’t ask. I know that things happen out of our control.
    I don’t feel like entering pieces in that show any more. 🙂
    I’ve since sold the 2 part sculpture that broke, telling the owners that I would redo the piece, which I have.

  19. I’ve not had something damaged at a gallery (knock on wood!) but always have something in the contract that states I remain the owner until the piece is sold, and that they are responsible for any damage that happens while work is in their care. I would never give something to a gallery or shop without a contract. The owner could be your best friend, but you still need a contract.

  20. I just took down a show today, and was handed one of my pieces in a plastic bag. No idea how it fell off the wall – the glass had shattered, the frame had split, but the artwork is all right. I’m glad it wasn’t an expensive frame, and that I have several more, because it’s part of a series framed identically. They didn’t offer to compensate me, and I didn’t ask (it was in a local restaurant).
    The most extensive repairs I’ve had to do were to a life-sized sculpture that was part of a large show honoring Charles Schulz, the cartoonist (it was Charlie Brown). Vandals sought out some of the statues – mine had one arm sawed off. The city ordered a new arm, another artist attached it, and I redid it (it was a matter of civic pride, and honoring Mr. Schulz). He was fine for a couple of years, until vandals attacked him again. I had to sculpt a new ear and almost completely repaint him, and he needed structural repairs. It took nearly six months before he was done. Now he’s in a safer spot, in the downtown library, but I haven’t seen him in a long time… I haven’t gone to see him; I don’t want to see any more damage, and I’m not going to spend hundreds of hours repairing him again (those hours I already spent were definitely a labor of love).

  21. I have had the frames on two works damaged at a ‘community show’ in a high profile neighborhood. They stacked the works with no attention to where the hooks were! I never exhibited with them again, or any community show manned by volunteers, they just don’t know better. Unfortunately the pieces were wrapped up when I collected them so I couldn’t see until it was too late.
    I also lost four paintings on the way back from the US. They offered to try to help me find them, then never responded back. When I kept nagging they eventually said, ‘well we looked into it and we didn’t purchase tracking so we have no idea where they are. Sorry.’ Um. Yeah. Great. So that was over $500 I never saw again.
    I wore all of these, I am looking into insurance but it seems pretty complex here in Aus. I got scared off from exhibiting overseas for a while after that!

  22. On a lighter note: I was hanging one of the last pieces in my first exhibition and, right in the center, in the lightest spot, was a big, black, perfectly painted paw print in black oil paint.
    I panicked, then laughed and cleaned it off with some light solvent. You can still see the traces of it on her stomach if you look closely!
    The moral of that story is shut your studio door lest ye have wandering kitties with an artistic sense!

    1. Jennie: Oh, that made me giggle. I have paw prints all over my printer top, desk, and counter top.

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