Liz Reday of Southern California wrote, “What do you do with all the extra art? Especially after fifty years of painting? How do I build a storage shed that will adequately protect the paintings and get them out of my now cluttered studio? Yes, I intend to destroy a number of the unfortunate unsuccessful ones (note I don’t call them “dogs”) but we can’t burn outside here in Southern California. Is a raised wood deck archival for storing paintings or is it better to have a concrete slab? Do your readers have any suggestions?”
Thanks, Liz. While not a builder of sheds, I can attest to the value of a dry, warm place. Around our house, painting storage spots have been collectively known as “salon des refusés” — a term borrowed from the exhibition of rejects from the Paris Salon of 1863. Up until recently, a rumpus room, every corner of my parents’ mid-century rancher and even a boathouse has served as a salon. While convenient and close at hand, some spots were more archival than others, earning me the nickname, “RORS,” or “Remover Of Rusty Staples.” Here are a few more ideas for your archival shed:
First, as you’ve suggested, cull work for quality and context. In the early days of accumulation, an artist can be a vigorous and vigilant cutter, knowing her best is ahead. More than a couple of random New York City construction skips have been accessorized with my own slashed rejects. If you’re at multiple decades, tackle the hoard with a philosophical gratitude for former selves, holding onto the best examples from each period as if planning a tight and exceptional retrospective.
If an outbuilding on your property is the goal, build it as if you’re going to put an almost-breathing thing in there. Paintings share the needs of the living — to be comfortably off the ground, with airflow, humidity control and protection from extreme temperatures, mold and wood bugs.
No matter where your work gets stored, wrap it. A sumo wrestler-sized Tribeca art handler recently urged me to switch to bubble-wrap that has a paper lining on one side. “All the big guys use it now,” he assured. The paper side goes against the painting, with the plastic bubble on the outside. Stretch wrap holds it without the stickiness of sticky tape.
Lastly, if things are extra precious, consider using an off-site storage facility rigged to protect from flood, fire, earthquake and other disasters. Dedicated art storage services offer wrapping, archiving, database, storage, insurance, crating and shipping and will vault up your paintings, for an investment, until summoned for future salon-goers.
PS: “Burn them at the wood stove.” (Lawren Harris to Thoreau MacDonald, son of J.E.H. MacDonald and storer of rejects.)
Esoterica: You can always just bury them. In 1931 after suffering a stroke, Canadian Group of Seven painter J.E.H. MacDonald was encouraged by his doctor to convalesce in a warmer climate. Before leaving for Barbados, J.E.H and his son, Thoreau wrapped a bunch of oil sketches in cellophane and tar paper, put them in boxes and buried them in the backyard of their Thornhill, Ontario home. After J.E.H’s death the following year, Thoreau left the paintings undisturbed until 1974, when he dug them up and sold them to his friend, Max Merkur, a high-rise developer and art collector. Max and his wife, Reta, kept them in their family for another four decades before the paintings were eventually sold and donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2015. As for Thoreau’s secret 40-year backyard stash, Ian Thom, curator of the VAG said, “There really wasn’t a tremendous market for sketches, so Thoreau felt no real need to unearth them.”
“The focus on MacDonald’s early practice lends considerable insight into the transformation of his style from more traditional depictions of the landscape to the bold, brilliantly coloured landscapes he was known for as a member of the Group of Seven.” (Ian Thom)