Exhibiting abroad—a story about why you should do your homework!

October 31, 2020

The invitation:

I received an invitation to exhibit in an international botanical art exhibition. I felt flattered. And I readily agreed to participate. Exhibiting abroad is an enticing proposition.

I’d exhibited outside Canada before in Bermuda, the US, the UK, Australia, and South Africa, but never in Italy, which is where the invitation in question came from. As usual, I did my homework. I discovered that the organizers invited some well-known and highly-respected international botanical artists. Furthermore, the exhibition was going to be at a prestigious gallery in Florence. I didn’t need any more convincing.

The optimism:

At this point, if you’ve never exhibited abroad before, I should mention that it’s not an inexpensive undertaking. You’ll need special packaging (a sturdy cardboard container with appropriate cushioning material designed for the purpose of shipping art, is best). And you’ll probably have to ship by FedEx or DHL or one of the other international carriers. The costs soon mount up. But we do this because we hope to sell the painting or, failing that, for the “exposure”, don’t we? At least, that’s what we tell ourselves if the painting doesn’t sell, “Too bad, but at least we got the exposure.”

The reality:

There was an important element I didn’t cover in my homework—getting my painting back out of Italy. I would never have guessed that the Italians have stringent regulations in place for shipping art out of Italy. The Italian authorities apparently put the regulations in place to protect their national treasures. They do not want them taken out of the country. It didn’t matter to them that I shipped my painting from Canada and was merely returning it. The bureaucratic quagmire of paperwork and red tape applied regardless.

I don’t have the space here to tell every detail of the sordid tale. It’s a tale about uninformed organizers, identity document copies, endless forms, an unhurried Italian bureaucracy, and the three months it took to get my painting back. Just take my hard-earned advice and do your homework thoroughly if you’re invited to exhibit abroad. Sometimes exhibiting abroad might not be all it’s cracked up to be.