Speaking of going with your gut, here’s a long story for ya. I very recently learned a lesson about ignoring my instincts and got myself into a shitty experience that I must share despite my stupidity and wishful thinking.
About a year ago, I got an out-of-the-blue email from some people that were starting a local business called Art With Vincent. They were looking to place all the local artists around here into the high-end Airbnbs around town.
Now, not to get political at all, but I am not a fan of all the goddamn Airbnbs that have popped up and continue to get built around here. It’s ridiculous! It’s been driving artists and permanent residents out of the area. It’s pushing lower-income people further away. There is essentially nowhere to rent long-term anymore. It’s changed Joshua Tree completely, and not for the better. I really didn’t want to support it in any way.
But these people had a positive idea. They were not building new Airbnbs. They were not renting any out. They were a third party and wanting to support local area artists and help them make some money out of something that was potentially harming them. And of course, make money for themselves. There was that too.
They had another element to this idea. They were going to build an online database of all the artists and their work with profiles, etc. It sounded like a good thing for the arts community. I thought it was a positive idea and I agreed to participate.
However, I had a funny feeling about it. Something in my gut felt a little wary about these people. Who were they? Where did they come from? Would my work be safe? Would it be insured as if it were in a regular gallery?
I’ve experienced a lot of bad shit with my art, even from galleries at times, but they’ve had insurance, so it was not hard to file a claim when something happened if there was damage to the work, or if something got lost in transit, etc. I’ve worked with many professional galleries and we’ve usually worked everything out.
So, I wanted to make sure we got everything in writing into a contract and I insisted on seeing their insurance policy. We did all that. I saw their insurance papers first. Then they came over and took away many of my major works, like ten of my pieces, all mostly my largest ones. Almost all of them were the ones that had month’s worth of embroidered work put into them. And I felt a little worried about non-art people that stayed in rental houses being around them, but I did it anyway. My mistake.
But we did a contract and I felt a little better about it. It wasn’t until after I started looking these people up on the internet. The woman I was dealing with, Melodi, seemed to have no past, or even a present. She said she had a long history of dealing with art curation in New York. I found no evidence of this. In fact, I only really found an old LinkedIn page of hers untouched since 2013. No social media. And a lawsuit against her for her renting out an apartment in New York that didn’t belong to her. I believe a lot of people in NY sublet their own rentals, so it only made me a little nervous, but nervous just the same.
Yet, I continued to stay put in the contract.
Then I saw a little video clip of the Airbnb my work was in on a cable TV vacation show. There was a big door in the room where one of my largest embroidered pieces, Machine, hung, one with hanging threads. The big door opened like a garage door to the outside, where all the dirt and elements could easily come in. Joshua Tree is a very windy place.
I asked Melodi if she could have that piece moved from that room, but it was never moved from that particular room. Not in the year it was there. I know this because I had to pick up some of my other work from that Airbnb for my own video shoot at my home. It was still there with all the threads entangled. I decided to start arranging to get my work back in the coming month or so.
Within that time, no website ever came to fruition. I kept asking about it all the time, and Melodi kept putting me off a week here and there every time.
I had to pick up another small piece (of course that painting was still hanging in that room), and one of the partners was going to meet me there so I could pick it up, but he never showed up. I kept texting him and I waited outside for 40 minutes until he finally texted and told me to tell the cleaning person who was there that I had permission to take it. But the cleaning person had no idea who he was. That ordeal took another 10-15 minutes to sort out and it was thoroughly frustrating.
It took another month to make arrangements to get all my work back. Some of it was at the Airbnb, and some of it was I don’t know where. I think it was at one of Melodi’s houses, but I was not sure. They were going to deliver it back to my home. I insisted they all come back wrapped in the plastic and bubble wrap the way they took it. I asked twice and Melodi assured me twice that it all would be.
Finally, about a week ago, her partner Tyler came to drop off all the work. “Do you need help?” I asked politely. “Yes,” he said. He let me carry some of the large paintings by myself. I was betting on him letting me take the smaller ones. Oh well.
Three of the pieces were not wrapped at all. One of them was Machine, which was filthy as fuck. I of course said something. “Why are these three not wrapped?” He had no real answer except that I should just charge them to have it wrapped. Whaa? “How does that work?” I asked. Am I supposed to buy some bubble wrap, then hire some random desert person to come wrap it and wait to store all the other pieces back into the space? He could clearly see that I had everything out so I could fit the bigger pieces into the shelving in order to file the smaller pieces back in front of those. My garage had been pulled apart for this particular afternoon. And I did not have that much wrap on hand. I was really pissed. Like I have all the time in the world?
One of the smaller pieces had white dust on it, which was immediately obvious. I placed it on an easel so he could see it right away and I pointed it out. “Maybe that will come off,” he said. I angrily spit on my finger and rubbed it and it luckily did. I told him I can clean it with water and hopefully it will dry okay.
After another couple of trips back and forth from the car, he said, “See, it’s drying now and the dust is gone. No biggie.” He never said he was sorry. Not once.
I mentioned again that those other pieces should have been wrapped. He seemed irritated and again said, “Just charge us.”
I was so angry, and when he left, I ruminated on it for a bit. I got myself worked up into a tizzy. I no longer had time to wrap anything and I had to order bubble wrap to boot. I couldn’t do anything with the mess in the garage until that arrived anyway. So I left it all a mess.
The day after the wrap arrived, I began cleaning the filthy pieces that were not wrapped and noticed that Machine had a scrape on the lower left side. It’s scraped through the dark part of some blended paint right through to the canvas. It’s not a huge scrape, but it’s noticeable, mostly because of the dark background.
I can’t fix it because that green blend was mixed many many years ago. I’d have to paint over it and the painting would look different. I brought this to their attention and sent pictures. They said because I waited 5.5 days to tell them about the scratch, they would not compensate me.
They wouldn’t even reimburse me for the labor it took me to rewrap my paintings, only the $45 for the bubble wrap. They said that was the law, according to their lawyer who they apparently contacted the night before, and also Sotheby’s too who they consulted with sometime that evening before too. They said I had 48 hours to notify them and I waited far beyond that.
Forty-eight hours?! Isn’t that some crazy shit? Amazon gives you at least 30 days if you receive a damaged item. Walmart gives you 90 days! And most artists give you a couple of weeks, as do galleries.
I asked them about their insurance and they said they’d never renewed it because their business venture never got off the ground due to lack of funds.
Bottom line, I think they just didn’t want to pay me. Essentially, they had my art for a year for free, disrespected it, and me, damaged it, and now I consider them untrustworthy as art people. I don’t think they are not good business people. They didn’t keep their word. I have never heard of this arbitrary law of 48 hours, and their lawyer does not know that I didn’t have bubble wrap for all those days. I didn’t discover the scrape until I was able to clean and wrap the piece. I didn’t tell them all that until after they told me about their bullshit rule, so I consider it all a justification for them to get out of. They don’t seem to give two shits.
If I were to sell this painting now, I would have to discount it a bit. All I wanted was a percentage of that discount on my artist’s price. I thought that was fair, and we could have at least negotiated it, but they didn’t even want to pay me for breaking my back to rewrap the pieces after they promised me they would wrap them. Instead, they figured they were doing me a favor by delivering the art back to me, even though it was in different locations. How was I supposed to pick it up? They wanted my art. They came and got it. And they are not operating as a gallery and can’t suddenly make up rules and say they are doing favors for ME. I can’t believe how these people turned out in the end. I think they are just assholes.
So there you have it. I guess I’ll listen to my gut more often now and trust my own damn self from now on.