Confessions Of A Gallery Girl Pt. 10: Selling Broken Artwork

Oh dear oh dear, when things get broken, do they ever get pieced back together the way they were? I like to think that broken objects gain personality: been there, done that, broke a leg and now I have a scar story, know what I mean? In the end, those fragments of imperfections are transformations that make the broken object look as if it had a history and the contours of what happened are the way the object tells us its story. Anyway, it is definitely not the same thing when you're a gallerina covering a booth at the London Art Fair with top collectors passing by and, out of the blue, a framed canvas falls off in front of your face and breaks – yes it broke! The question (challenge) was: could I still be able to sell it?

Challenge Accepted

It was so painful it’s even hard to write about it now. One of those top young collectors was swinging by for the second time because he had placed eyes on a beautiful and expensive minimalist painting. We spoke about prices and shipping and he even wanted to meet the artist. Yet he said he would make some phone calls and get back to me, as he was still deciding on buying it. I remember this moment crystal clear: I saw him leave in slow motion at the exact same moment when I heard a cracking noise. When I turned my head, I discovered the painting had smashed to the floor and had been cut open right below the left corner with its own frame. I still have no clue how it happened.

Do collectors still want broken artwork? Get tips on how to be a good art collector here. Photo: Chris Phillips

With lighting fast speed I hid the damaged painting in the back of the booth so no one could see it. My body was in shock; I could not feel the full effect of what was happening. I knew I had to act fast before the collector came back yet I only stood there like an idiot thinking of 100 million ways of how the phone call to my boss would be like. It played it out in my head and sounded something like this: "Hello, gallery girl here at the London Art Fair, I am sorry to inform you but gravity has chosen our painting today."  I eventually called my boss, who did not seem so shocked. Instead, she only yelled to tell me not to contact the artist about the situation and to get the painting fixed before the collector came back. I put the phone down and took a deep breath.  I was so nervous, how could this happen to me?

Where was Katharina Martinelli when I needed her? Read about her restoration work here. Photo: Chris Phillips

I proceeded to smuggle the painting through the streets of London, running where the little arrow on my iphone told me to go, hoping that the little red pin would save my life. At my destination, I was greeted by an old grumpy man in his dusty dark shop. It was full of sculptures and canvases already in the mid-surgery with an old Frank Sinatra vinyl playing as operation theater music. He took the patient – sorry painting – and said, "Your boss called. I know what should be done young lady, don’t worry your pretty little head. Take a seat."

He took the canvas out of its frame with jack hammer delicacy. I remember that I left my heart in San Francisco was playing the moment I saw the cut at the bottom of the painting. Then my phone suddenly rang. It was the collector asking for the painting and ready to purchase it – the catch was that he actually wanted to take it with him, immediately. I debated with the collector on the gallery’s shipment policy and told him I was only allowed to send it to his home address. Yet he kept insisting that he would take it right then! I told him I would personally bring it to his hotel that evening. He reluctantly agreed. 


Back in the gallery, six months after fate decided that gravity would take that painting's pristine life, every time the phone rings I expect to hear the voice of the collector asking for the missing canvas piece he never got (but certainly paid for – and a pretty penny at that!). That canvas has a story: it was patched up in London by a grumpy old Englishman with Frank Sinatra songs playing in the background. I was the only one that knew about it. Sometimes I reminisce and wonder where this canvas could possibly be hanging in the world—I only hope it's hanging properly this time. 

Article by Anonymous Gallery Girl

Last Week's Confessions:  Falling In Obsession