“Valentino’s Ghosts” is a photo homage to the memory of Italian artist and sommelier Valentino Monticello. The series captures the work his family is currently doing to exhibit his artwork. The photographs were taken by his son Michele Monticello while his daughter Claudia and family friend Gabreila Weiss photograph and upload the works to Artwork Archive. All the photos were taken by Michele Monticello in Valentino’s studio in London.
The creative process can get messy—really messy.
For many artists, especially those who perhaps see meaning in even the most mundane of ephemera, knowing what to save and what to discard can feel confusing. Some artists have famously saved literally everything.
Andy Warhol, for example, used to keep a box by his desk that he would fill with every kind of item imaginable—crumpled receipts, annotated telephone messages, free LPs, fan mail, uneaten cake wrapped up in napkins, hundreds of used stamps, and even toenails. Once the box was full, it would be sent to a storage unit and a new box would be filled, usually at least once a month.
By the time Warhol died, there were more than 600 of these boxes in a storage unit, which are now safely archived at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and known as Time Capsules. While this strategy clearly aligns with Warhol’s ethos refuting any separation between art and life, it’s obviously not a practical way to approach archiving your own work and career. Let’s be honest—it’s hoarding.
Another example is Judy Chicago, an artist who is meticulously maintaining her archive as a form of self-preservation. After her opus artwork, The Dinner Party received mixed reviews in the 1970s and 80s—with some calling the work kitsch and others labeling it pornography—the massive installation spent years languishing in storage, racking up bills with no end in sight.
Today, The Dinner Party is widely hailed as one the most important works of feminist art ever created and is on permanent view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Chicago simply believed that some things are worth holding onto—even if the majority of critics disagree—and she was right. Eventually, culture caught up.
In her excellent article, What Should an Artist Save?, Thessaly La Force writes that Chicago’s “archive is her legacy…Chicago does not intend to be erased, the way many of the women she discovered in researching The Dinner Party were.” Chicago’s archive is now maintained by three institutions: Harvard University, Penn State University, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Knowing now what could prove important later is definitely a gamble, but taking the time and effort to archive your own work and parts of your career is actually an essential part of self-care as an artist. The archiving practice itself can help instill confidence in your own process—and legacy—over time. After all, if you don’t care, why should anyone else?
So how do you know what to record and how to get started?
Let’s start with the basics.
Record the details of every artwork you create
Every artwork that you create needs to be photographed and recorded with the following details: Artwork title, year of creation, medium, edition size (if applicable), and dimensions. If you have signed the artwork, then photograph your signature.
Once you have your images and details ready, log that information into a database like Artwork Archive.
Each artwork record in Artwork Archive has fields for all the most important information, as well as additional details, bonus images, scans of accompanying documents, invoices, receipts from production expenses, etc.
You can upload up to ten images per artwork record, so you can include photos of the front of the painting, detail shots, an image of the signature and install shots.
As a best practice, photographing artworks while they are in process is also recommended. You can even tag works that are not yet finished as “in progress,” so that you don’t have to wait until a piece is totally complete to record it in your archive.
Keep your CV up-to-date
Once you begin to exhibit your art, you’ll need to keep a running tally of essentially everything you do. This is known as your curriculum vitae, or CV. It’s a comprehensive list of your exhibitions, awards, performances, publications, teaching positions, residencies, etc.
To learn more about how to create a professional artist CV, read this article.
Once you have your CV, upload it to your Artwork Archive account under MyDocs. That way, you’ll always know where your most up-to-date CV is located and you can access it from anywhere, on any wifi-connected device.
You can also record exhibition history within each artwork record (as well as publication history), allowing you to archive the individual journey of every work of art you make. Finally, you can also record all shows you've been in with the exhibitions feature.
Once you start working with galleries, there will be paperwork and lots of it. Save it!
Sometimes, works get damaged in transit, dealers sell pieces for less than agreed upon, and/or collectors lose their supporting documents. Cover your bases and create a digital paper trail by saving the following documents:
Copies of signed consignment agreements with galleries
Now that the art world has finally realized that handshakes aren’t a substitute for signed agreements, it’s important to carefully read the fine print on all consignment forms and other contracts before signing them.
Once signed (and countersigned by the gallery), scan every commission agreement and upload it to your Artwork Archive account. You can upload and save these forms in several different places, depending on your preference.
You can create a Location record for the gallery and upload consignment agreements there as additional documents. Read more about locations.
Another option is to add that gallery as a contact and upload the agreement to their contact record.
Finally, you can also choose to upload the agreement to each artwork record for those pieces being consigned as an additional document.
Having your consignment agreement uploaded into your Artwork Archive account will allow you to quickly access it for reference. That accessibility will allow you to protect yourself should any conflicts arise, such as the gallery selling works for less than originally agreed upon, or refusing to pay for return shipping, despite it being clearly listed in the terms of the consignment as their responsibility.
Shipping forms and condition reports
Shipping is one of the most stressful parts of being an artist, especially if your work is particularly fragile…or heavy. To simplify the process for yourself, always make a condition report prior to work leaving your studio. Upload that report to the artwork record under additional files.
This way, if there is any damage while in transit, you’ll have proof that the work was in good condition before being loaded onto the truck, which is required for insurance claims. When/if the gallery also does a condition report upon receipt of the artwork, again, save a copy of it.
Should your work require a shadow frame or any extra materials, make sure to take photos of works being packed. For all you know, the person unpacking (or re-packing) your art on the other end is an intern who actually doesn’t have a ton of art-handling experience.
Take the guesswork out of the process by providing clear instructions and save a copy of that document in the artwork record—so you never have to go digging to find it, or worse, be forced to rewrite it.
The same advice goes for technical riders, lists of required hardware, or any other specifications that accompany a piece. Keep a copy of those requirements with the artwork in your database for future reference.
Other shipping forms, such as proforma invoices or delivery receipts are important to keep should artworks “go missing” while in transit or fall victim to the endless purgatory that is customs. You also may need to prove later that works were exported (or imported) legally (and all duties/taxes were paid), so it’s simply recommended to keep copies of all shipping documentation and upload them to the appropriate artwork record, location record, or contact record.
Receipt from galleries for sales commissions
This is just good financial advice. Keeping copies of all your commission slips and other revenue is a must when it comes to accounting and the dreaded tax deadline.
Entering that information into your Artwork Archive account will also let you track analytics, so you can see what galleries or sales partners are performing best for your art and career. Additionally, you can track your best clients, your top performing geographic regions and other stats to help you concentrate on what’s really working and tune out everything else.
Artwork Archive allows artists to track their sales, including revenue from other activities (teaching classes, etc.), as well as expenses. The system even keeps a real-time total of income and expenses, so you’ll always know where you stand, financially-speaking. Not only can you upload your invoices and receipts, you can link to the affiliated artwork record, so all your information is compiled and connected.
Scans of signed COAs
A Certificate of Authenticity (COA) is like a receipt, signed by the artist. Ideally, a COA will accompany the sale of an artwork, giving the owner reassurance that the piece is an original creation by the artist.
A COA might even be required for the collector to resell the artwork on the secondary market at auction or through a dealer. COAs have been known to be forged, however, so it’s recommended that, once you’ve signed a COA, scan it and upload the scan to your Artwork Archive account as an additional document within the artwork record.
COAs can also include copyright information (i.e. “copyright remains with the artist”) or installation instructions/permissions, so it’s important to keep a record of every COA you sign for your own archive.
Artwork Archive also makes creating COAs for artworks simple and fast. All you have to do is click on "new report" and you can create a COA directly from an artwork record. To learn more about COAs, read this.
Keep anything that tells your story, and charts your journey, as an artist.
Press & reviews
Links are great, but may not last forever (the dreaded “link rot”), so it’s recommended to always download all your press clips as PDFs and save those in your Artwork Archive account, otherwise you could click on a link one day and find only a 404 page. (In those cases, try the wayback machine to pull up archived websites).
Upload your press PDFs either in MyDocs or as additional documents within an exhibition record and/or artwork record. Make sure to add the publication history in the artwork record, and also add it to your CV under your “Bibliography.”
As mentioned above, process shots are simply a best practice. Curators, scholars and collectors are also generally enchanted by the creative process, so it’s wise to document your own! Upload the images to the artwork record as “process-shot-dateXXXX” so you can also get a sense of how your work evolves as you’re creating.
Install shots from exhibitions, fairs and other presentations
Pics or it didn’t happen! Always photograph your own work, just to be safe. Anything could happen—the gallery could refuse to pay the photographer and they could hold the images hostage, for example.
The best method is simply to take your own photos, which will also help you ensure that they are labeled properly and any post-production such as color-correction is up to your standards.
Invitation cards from exhibitions
Galleries go bankrupt and close all the time. When they shut their doors, they often take down their websites—deleting a trove of valuable archival information in the process. Keeping exhibition invitations is one way to make sure there’s proof that said exhibition took place. Also, they’re fun.
Keep a record of any collector correspondence by adding scans of letters or screenshots of emails as additional files to their contact record. This will help you keep track of important details and conversations that you’ve had with them about their aesthetic, their travels, upcoming events, etc.
Having such details handy and building out a full profile of that collector will allow you to strengthen your relationship with them over time—which can lead to more sales, future patronage, and other benefits for your art career.
To learn more about how Artwork Archive’s CRM helps artists grow their networks and build their careers, read this.
Curators are among the most important gatekeepers in the art world. Correspondence with curators might not always be positive—but even a rejection letter could prove significant down the line.
Just look at Warhol: among the items he saved in his 600+ time capsules was a letter from MoMA, rejecting his attempted donation of a drawing of a shoe.
Even documenting one’s failures as an artist is thus recommended as a best archival practice. Future scholars, curators, gallerists and collectors can tell a more authentic story about you and your artistic journey if you record not only your tribulations, but your trials as well.
It all contributes to your legacy as an artist—a narrative that you can control by actively, and thoughtfully, archiving your work and life.