"Art handling" is a practice basee research project in the framework of artistic material research at the Fine
Arts and Design Department at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts. It is collaboratively led by
the artist, lecturer and research fellow Christoph Lang and artist and PhD-Candidate Lucie Kolb.
Contemporary art requires a particular form of mobility: artists as well as curators, educators, art dealers and
gallery owners orientate themselves within an international framework. The globalization of the markets
poses the question, which kind of art can be or must be thought of with regards to a global level and how this is indicated within artistic and institutional practices. The demand of the liberal globalized market is also
relevant concerning the physical existence of art works. These are increasingly exposed to packing and
unpacking and other changes and exposures as part of movement and travel programs.
"Art handling" refers to activities such as packaging, transporting and (re)construction/assembly of art
works. Many artists work as art handlers in museums, galleries and fairs and in exhibitions in general. Art
handling can be seen as part of artistic production and artists are also trained for this, but mainly in the
context of their own work. For artists art handling may be an attractive day job and he or she may learn aboutand through this related to the art production of others and the art field in general.
The global art market is dependent on a "star system", highlighting a small number of people. The majority
of the trained artists make their earning by taking on jobs in different economic fields but in the field of art
handling working as free-lancer or employed handler for public institutions and/or private companies and
Although throughout the last 40 years the structures, frameworks and settings of the art field (institutions,
market, curator, artist and so on) have been extensively discussed both in a broader art context and through
art (institutional critique, non-exhibition), the position of the art handler has attracted little or no attention
from artists and theoreticians. The research project analyzes the role and function of the art handler in his or
her historical dimension. Therein it focuses on an artistic reflection of the specific position of the art handler
in the art world and examine the (often ambivalent) relation and reflection of the roles "art worker" (i.e. "art
handler") and "exhibiting artist". The projects aims to close this research gap by involving artists (as
researchers) and students of art history and cultural studies to develop an exhibition on that topic.
The project aims to analyse the role and function of the art handler in his or her historical dimension. It
focuses on an artistic reflection on the specific position of the handler in the art world and examines the
relation between art workers and (exhibiting) artists. The project unfolds the interdependences between dayjob and their own artistic practice focussing on process, strategies and use of material.
Art handling is a somehow overseen part of artistic production, therefore artists are also trained for this, but
mainly in the context of their own work. As a primary method we will establish a number of situated
conversation with artists who currently work as art handlers mainly in Switzerland (which is a hub dealing
with contemporary art). In contrast to the classic interview with successful artists our conversations will not
focus on one artist as subject but on the general work and practice as art handlers. The interviewed artists
will become co-researchers for the project and on the other hand we will work with them temporary in their
day job as art handlers.
As a main result we work towards an exhibition on the topic of art handling which integrates works reflecting this topic within the arts and social sciences among artistic statements from the interviewed artists.
The project aims to give insights into the tension between the roles of facilitating the various contexts and
that of the artist within the framework of an exhibition.
The presentation focuses on the role of art handlers in the contemporary art field. It discusses the method of
situated conversation with art handlers to explore the the practice of their job.
As a starting point about the ambiguous field of art handling practice I would provide a a close reading of a
fragment from Julian Schnabel's debut film Basquiat (USA 1996). In this particular scene (16:45 - 19:20) the
movie shows twenty years old - by the art scene unrecognised - artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-198)
jobbing in a commercial gallery together with an other unsuccessful artist. While the elder art handler
(played by Willem Dafoe) bitterly states that he is glad not having received any recognition as an artist so far,
young Basquiat gets into a dispute with the gallery's sales agent and her client and eventually quits his
Secondly I would provide some information about the recent Art handler lockout at Sotheby's in New York
which brought the issue to a wider public recognition.
Further I would like to present some material from the situated conversation with art handlers in Zurich,
Belgium and Berlin and critically discuss the method and the process towards the exhibition with the
participants of the conference.