Keeping an Archive

Keeping an Archive:

I’m not really sure where to put this piece of information but as we spent a bit of time today talking about saving images, I’m going to put this information on today’s posts.

Most artists do not do this until they’re well into their careers. In the meantime, they’ve sold a ton of work and have no idea where it’s all gone.

You never know when you may have a solo exhibition in a Museum. If you do, and you want a piece back from a Collector, you need to keep track of who has what.

This may seem silly right now, but getting into the habit now will help you so much down the line. You’re deeply invested already- you’re in school for this so you believe on some level that this is how you will spend your life.

This archive can also function as your inventory. As you grow, make more and more work, move studios, change apartments, it’s easy to lose track of where all your stuff is. Keeping an active archive can help with this. There are all kinds of benefits to this practice- extending all the way to helping you out on your taxes. This can look a lot like an image list which I showed you how to do earlier. It can also be much more comprehensive.

  • Keep track of what work is sold, what is available, and who you have given work to as a gift. Other categories can include NFS or not for sale, donated, destroyed, etc.
  • Frequently update condition reports on all of your inventory. Is the work damaged? Where and by whom was it damaged?
  • Describe the artwork visually and conceptually for tracking and for archival purposes. This is especially important for kinetic or participatory work, social practice projects, installations, video, and performance. A static image can only explain so much, supplemental text may be needed. This will also be useful for a future retrospective exhibitions or research on your practice.
  • Keep track of your expenses for each artwork so you know how to set the price, or for tax purposes.
  • Know where your artwork is at all times. Is it on a shelf in your studio, consigned to a gallery, under the bed, or in an exhibition in Europe?
  • Keep track of who owns your work. If it is resold to another buyer you can track who owns it (if anyone tells you they sold it). This does not usually contain a list of everyone such as your great aunt, but those collectors who own a specific collection.
  • Keep track of who sold the work and when it was sold. Include how much you received for the work, and when you were paid. This is important for future pricing of work as well as changes in pricing from venue to venue. You should also keep track of internal wholesale prices to understand how much the work is valued as well as retail prices for how much it will sell on the public market.

Do it yourself using Microsoft Word, or Excel, and keep it filed it in your current year folder or pay for a service like Artwork Archive –which is a really great service by the way.

However you end up doing it, it’s good practice to start early.


This leads me to my next point. Signing your work. No matter what the medium, you should label your work. There is a HUGE resale market for work that was made a long time ago. Museums and collectors alike love to know for sure that what they’re buying is authentic. You should sign or mark everything you make.  There is an organization right now in ceramics that’s trying to compile a comprehensive database of marks made by American ceramics artists from 1946 to the present. to help with the so-called secondary market. For the researcher, collector or serendipitous visitor, the site offers access to an ever-growing catalog of American studio ceramists and their marks. For the ceramic artists and their heirs, the site offers a documentation service to record ceramic work, mark(s) and professional data to establish a work and mark history and an artist’s legacy. This organization is called the Marks Project and their tag line is “don’t be anonymous”.

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