How To Inventory Artwork

Hanging and counting in a gallery - How to inventory artwork - Pyragraph

My buddy Lex jokes that I’m the type that enjoys untangling Christmas lights. It’s true. I get great enjoyment out of managing chaos, herding cats.

And I really like to inventory artwork.

When I worked as an art dealer and curator, I would oftentimes request a sample of recent work. Some artists would send 30 separate emails, one for each piece, with details. Some went the old-school way with an image list and a CD. And then there were those who didn’t know how to photograph their own work, let alone inventory it, so I kept the contact info for an experienced photographer. Admittedly, I sometimes picked up a camera for the sake of last-minute documentation. These were the artists who required an extra-long studio visit.

I inventory all my work so that all of my dealers know what is available.

I would often wonder why, if someone really and truly wanted to share their work with other people, they hadn’t learned to inventory artwork. After all, archiving one’s work is a necessary component for sharing it in a larger context. Understanding an artist’s progress is essential to appreciating their journey. And we need good pictures to do that.

When it came time for me to focus solely on making my own work, and to work with galleries, I promised myself that I would NOT be one of those “please untangle my Christmas lights for me” artists.

I knew how hard it was to run a gallery: the hours of socializing, marketing, research and paperwork, writing press releases, crafting emails, updating websites, returning phone calls. A good dealer is a treasured ally. In keeping my promise, the first thing I set out to do was to inventory all of my work in order to make it entirely accessible.

I do this so that all of my dealers know what is available, and where it is located. Also, when things sell, the inventory sheet is updated, so I have an accurate record of who is selling the most of my work, or making the largest sales. That’s right—because when it’s time to say thank you, you need to know who to thank the most!

Using a spreadsheet, it’s easy to inventory artwork.

How to inventory artwork - My inventory, as of early March, 2014 - PyragraphI personally use inventory numbers to help me keep track of when the work was completed, and how many works I completed that month. For instance, in my case, using my initials MK, inventory number MK041322 means that the work was created in April of 2013, and it was the 22nd piece I completed that month. Most galleries use inventory numbers as well, and if your work is primarily untitled, they will LOVE you for using inventory numbers.

I also use inventory numbers to label my image files. For instance, the image for the piece “MK041322″ would be saved as kaplan_mk041322.jpg. So when other people look at your images, they will know it’s your piece, and they can use the inventory number to see the details for it.

Your first task is to inventory everything.

If you don’t remember when the work was made, just start with the same month and year for everything, to signify that it predates your inventorying practice.

Next, divide your work by location.

Soome works will be labeled in “studio”; others in “Art Gallery”; another in “Designer Name”; “Museum.” You get the gist.

Know where all your work is located, because a couple times a year you’ll need to contact your reps to check in to see if they need new inventory. At this time you can verify with them that what you have in your inventory file matches what they have on hand (which keeps you accountable).

When something sells, I simply highlight the row of the item.

At the end of the year, when it’s time for taxes, I match my check stubs to my bank account and my inventory sheet to create my Profit & Loss statement for the year. Having the inventory sheet makes it very easy to see which dealers have done the best with your work, which works were the most popular that year, and who, if anyone, may need to change out inventory that has been sitting in storage.

I hope that you will start out the new year with studio organization in mind. Once you have all of your work inventoried, you may be surprised by how much (or maybe how little) you have available. Good luck!

Photos courtesy of Mia Kaplan.

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  1. Thank you, just trying to learn spreadsheet now so good to use as a project to learn and get my work archival .

  2. Thanks all! One thing I didn’t mention is what I did to the info about the works after they sold and after the year/taxes were filed. Many spreadsheet programs allow you to create additional “pages” to your spreadsheet. I simply cut all of my hi lighted works and paste them onto the new page. If I know who bought it, I change their name to the location. Otherwise, I keep track of which agent handled the placement of the work.

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