How to Buy Fabulous Artwork while you are Traveling
I've been to 30 countries many of them more than once and along the way I have bought some pretty fabulous art.
In fact, I detailed several of my art shopping adventures in my recently released memoir, Adventures of a Curious Sculptor. Here's an example:
"When we entered, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large, clean space filled with high quality hand-made Indonesian goods. We all wandered around for what seemed like ages until I found myself standing in front of a large display of wood carvings which where actually parts of intricately carved buildings that had been repurposed as upright sculptures. I knew I had to have one and Laurie happily convinced me to buy the biggest one, saying that I would regret it later and buying this in the US would cost 10 times as much as here… and she was right."
Several days later....
"...Laurie enthusiastically helped me figure out how to pack all of my new found treasures for the trip back to the US. The next day I left the hotel with a carry-on, a rolling luggage bag, and a stripped plastic bag covered in duck tape. When I landed in Washington, DC, some 26 hours later, the customs officials actually laughed out loud at my packing, but I didn’t care. I had brought back three hand-carved Indonesian sculptures… and I delighted in unwrapping them when I got home."
As a result, I understand all of the reasons that people shy away from artwork while they're traveling. The idea of getting a work of art back to your hometown can be a little daunting. Well, let me help to demystify the process a bit and let you in on some tips and tricks of the well-traveled and the dedicated art lovers.
Now, before we dive in it's important to differentiate the two types of art people generally buy while traveling.
First, there are the spur of the moment buys. These are generally small not terribly breakable items that you buy in a random shop or in a gift shop. I have a million such items...my favorite being a pair of hand-painted icons I bought in Bulgaria while I was a Peace Corps volunteer.
The second is the large artwork purchase. It's that painting you see in a gallery in some random art gallery when you're on a different continent and you just dismiss it because you think "I'll never be able to get that home!" Like my Indonesian sculpture....
So if you're anything like me and you love bringing back something fabulous from your travels, let's go through the steps to making buying art while traveling a smooth and joyful experience.
Do Your Homework
The first and most important step to buying fabulous artwork while you're traveling is to get off the plane prepared. Do your research before you arrive. Don't do what so many people do and just ask around at your hotel. I know from experience, 9 times out of 10 they're going to point you towards some tourist trap with really ugly art....do I sound bitter here...I might have had this experience:)
What you want to find are the places where the wealthy locals (in developing countries) shop or where the local artists sell their work. In Western Europe you're going to want to find the galleries that match your personal style. The number one way to do this is to either ask friends who have visited the area before about their experiences or to use your network to find an artsy person who has lived in the area. Actual locals are of course always best, but when you're a tourist that's not always an option. When I used to travel internationally for work I always used to single out the most stylish and friendly of my local colleagues and ask them where to shop..I was rarely disappointed. However, if you're a tourist, I recommend going some research online before you arrive and make a list (with addresses) of the most promising art galleries and artists (who might have their own private galleries. Also don't discount open markets especially in developing countries!
I think one of the most important things to remember is to be flexible! Don't get off the plane with a specific type of art or a place in your home that you want to fill in your mind. If you do this, you're really setting yourself up for failure.
Buying art should be fun...it should be just as much of an adventure as any other part of your vacation. I mean, some of my favorite pieces of art have great stories behind how I bought them and like zero of them were planned. So if you find something you just love, buy it! And if you don't have the perfect blank place for it in your house, rearrange your house. Just go with the good feeling, believe me. You'll be glad you did!
Get your Artwork Home
Ok. So we're to the biggest block that most people have about buying art while traveling....How on earth am I going to get it home?
In most circumstances it is going to cost you money to get it back home. That's just part of the investment. Now how much it's going to cost you will depend on how far from home your are....and every situation will be different.
Here's a couple scenerios and my advice for each one:
Airplane Travel within the US
I'd love to say that staying within the US for vacation makes things easier but it doesn't. Mostly because flying within the United States has become a no-frills bus ride across the sky. I frankly try to avoid it whenever possible....so don't try to bring large art on the plane with you.
Small art, yes. For small art, buy or bring an extra bag, wrap it in bubble wrap and then pad it with your clothes and pay the extra baggage fee.
For large art, I highly recommend asking the gallery or artist to ship it to your home address. I do this all the time for clients. It's not a problem and it rarely costs more than $150 for large sculptures. For pieces that you've bought at casual markets, I recommend just popping it by UPS before you go. UPS is great. If you pay a little extra they'll wrap it, box it up, and ship it for you within 30 minutes.
Airplane Travel Outside the US
Traveling outside the US can actually make things a little easier. First of all most international flights allow two free large checked bags. One trick I learned when I used to fly back and forth from Kenya all the time (which has fabulous art by the way) is to pack a large hardcover rolling bag with my clothes and a large foldable duffle bag on the way over. Then on the way back, I'd fill the duffle bag full of my dirty clothes and put my new treasures in the hardcover bag padded with clothes on the way back. Most airlines allow for a pretty large hardcover bag which will allow you to bring back some good-sized art.
For larger paintings and bulkier pieces, I would recommend checking with airline to see if you can pay an extra fee and bring it back with you on the plane. You might also consider using DHL but if you're in Africa or Asia this will be costly. You'll have to use your own judgement for how much you want to spend in this case.
Traveling by Car
If you're planning on art shopping while on a road trip, I recommend packing light and take measurements of the space that you have left in your car. Also pack a few extra blankets or pillows to use as padding for the trip back. That is if you definitely want to be able to put the piece of art in your car and bring it back with you. Otherwise, I actually highly recommend just having it shipped back to your home. It's so much easier and less stressful.