Ted Riederer photographed by Jason Wyche
How to work with art installers according to Ted Riederer.
Ted Riederer is an artist and musician based in Long Island City, New York — he also has more than 20 years of experience as a fine art preparator. Like many professional art handlers, Ted’s work in the arts is not limited to art installation alone. He was the founding Artistic Director of Howl, a nonprofit exhibition space devoted to the history of the arts in New York's East Village. He’s been the lead preparator for blue-chip galleries in Chelsea and was a co-host of artist Shane Caffrey’s beloved “Art Handler’s Olympics,” which satirized the sometimes absurd commercial art world.
During all this, Ted has been active as an exhibiting artist with a multidisciplinary practice that encompasses painting, sculpture, live performances, and his on-going Never Records project. Never Records is a record store and recording studio in the guise of an art installation that was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2020 and has toured the world, popping up in cities including: London (sponsored by The Tate); Kansas City, MI; New Orleans, LA; Amman, Jordan; and elsewhere.
Here, Ted answers art installation questions from Artwork Archive’s collector community with his signature wit and a healthy dose of real-talk.
AA: What are some red flags when working with an art installer?
TR: Upon first glance, I read this question as “what are some red flags when working with unfamiliar collectors (there are many).” You can see where my bias lies. So, before we begin, let’s establish some simple truths about art handlers.
If you’re working with a recommended installer, whether the referral was from a gallery, art advisor, or secondary dealer, you will be working with a trusted and discreet professional. The commercial art system is a tried-and-true network of professionals and, generally, everyone knows or is at least familiar with each other. Do not work with someone who hasn’t come recommended.
Art handlers/installers are generally artists who will treat your art like they would treat their own work. Most art handlers love contemporary art, in some cases as much as the collector. Most art handlers also have an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary art, having worked with private collections and museums, as well as commercial galleries.
In one case, I was able to authenticate a drawing because I had just installed the artist’s show and done research for their catalog. I’ve been in many situations where the art handler is the authority in the room. Good curators and collectors know this, so treat your installers as potential artists and art historians. Having worked personally with many artists — often acting as a liaison between an artist’s studio and a collector — I have an intimate knowledge of dozens and dozens of artists' work.
Good art handlers are humble. They work hard all day to pay for a studio they rarely have time to visit. A good handler knows when to speak and when to exercise discretion. I have experienced some very tense and difficult situations. I’ve witnessed arguments between spouses, couples trying to hide works before divorces are finalized, absolutely anything you can imagine.
Because most handlers are artists, they have the “touch” and experience working with materials to treat your work properly. Additionally, most art handlers work with the artists themselves, whether it is installing a show with an artist or packing an artwork in an artist’s studio. In some unfortunate cases, the art handler may even value an artwork more than its owner.
AA: What’s the worst type of wall to hang art on?
TR: The worst walls are generally in newly constructed buildings where sheetrock is not backed. Brick walls can be an annoyance but any well-equipped installer can handle them. Venetian plaster and fabric walls can be tricky, but if it’s just a matter of hanging a framed work or painting with d-rings, ook nails will leave a minimal footprint.
One thing to remember is that walls and wall finishes can be patched, painted, and repaired, so don’t be too precious with your walls. Handlers will always try to hang works as simply and efficiently as possible. With a lot of clients, I’m the one de-installing and re-installing works on the walls, so I want to leave as little trace as possible, in case a new work doesn’t cover previous installation marks. It’s also a point of pride to leave a meticulous wall for the next installer that comes along.
I would also avoid walls with direct sunlight since UV rays can wreak havoc on artwork. I’ve even seen work fade that was glazed with UV glass. Also, avoid proximity to radiator and heat vents.
AA: D-rings or wire? Wire or cleats? What’s the best hanging hardware to use?
TR: In most cases, where weight is not an issue, the decision to use wire or d-rings is arbitrary. Wired works can hang off the wall, which isn’t always desirable. Whenever I’m hanging work in a high-traffic area, I will always hang directly on d-rings for stability because in rare situations wire can break.
French cleats are fantastic but will necessitate screws (as opposed to nails) so be prepared for more invasive marks on your wall. If an artwork is heavy or precarious, a handler may recommend safety wires or extra hardware such as mirror clips or brackets.
No art handler ever wants to be responsible for a work getting damaged or falling off a wall, so all installers I know are very conservative when it comes to safety. When in doubt arrange a site visit. These are quite common.
AA: How do I know that my wall will support the heavy artwork I want to install?
TR: By simply rapping your knuckles on the wall you can tell easily if a wall has backing or is hollow. Older buildings can present problems with lathe or masonry underneath sheetrock. In this case, a handler will recommend anchors or mollys. Again, a good handler will be prepared for any situation; but, if there is any doubt, a site visit is recommended. Be sure to raise any concerns ahead of time, which will allow the installer to be properly equipped.
AA: I live in an elevator building with a doorman, what do I need to prepare for my art delivery/installation?
TR: Art handlers, like any other contractor, will need a certificate of insurance (COI) to work in any building. Make sure you’re purchasing work from an entity that has “wall-to-wall” insurance coverage and that any art shippers/movers have fine art coverage.
It’s very common for work to be damaged in transit and you want to make sure you are using professionals at every step of the way. To that end, it is wise to encourage the use of condition reports.
You can request these from the gallery or dealer. At the very least, when you receive artworks, it’s recommended to make a cursory inspection of the packaging materials and make note of any dents or scuffs in cardboard. And, it is always a good idea to take pictures of any questionable marks or issues.
The truth is: much of the art that is trafficked these days is often made out of fragile materials, especially conceptual art objects. Do not panic if something is damaged — it happens more than you realize — and professionals can immediately shift gears and do whatever is necessary to fix any artwork.
AA: What are some ways that I can ensure the art handlers do their job properly?
TR: Treat all art handlers with respect. The client I moved a couch for last month had no idea nor cared that I have three degrees. When I’m in someone’s home, I take the utmost care— whether I’m hanging a children’s drawing or a Frank Stella.
Time is almost always an enemy. I’ve been in situations where I’m stepping over painters and carpenters in an attempt to make some ridiculous deadline.
If you’ve invested in your collection, then give it the time and space it deserves. Try to be decisive — art handlers thrive when there is a plan.
That doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind, just have reasonable expectations when you decide to change everything after a long day of installation. Art handlers have a lot of experience hanging work, so if you need help deciding which work looks better over the mantle, ask the handler for their opinion. I’ve made major curatorial contributions to museum and gallery exhibitions and I am always thoughtful and considerate when a client asks for advice.
Art handlers are the unsung heroes of the art world.
Artwork Archive recognizes the contribution that art handlers bring to the cultural landscape and seeks to simplify the process when it comes to arranging art installations. A collector who is prepared with their certificates of insurance, condition reports, and other important documents — by compiling this information in an art collection management database, like Artwork Archive — will be able to streamline any installation, resulting in a good working relationship, to everyone's benefit.