The art of logistics

artsurprise repackaging - the artsurprise vending machine close to one of the most important museums in cologne
artsurprise repackaging – the artsurprise vending machine close to one of the most important museums in cologne

What do the box numbers 3321, 5128, 6615 and 17003 have in common? Why did these boxes have to be reassembled and new labels printed with the old serial numbers? This is the story of hope and loss, of robbery, of informatics and the need to repackage one-of-a-kind art.

When we started ARTSURPRISE in 2011, the declared goal was to break new ground in art production, art mediation and distribution. Many years before, FLUXUS artists had used cigarette vending machines in art events. But they were always snapshots, singular actions and no workflow could emerge. Now, after more than 10 years, we are about to complete box number 30,000.

The development of logistics, in particular the investment in the creation of an own merchandise management system adapted to the needs of an art business, was foreseeable from the start. The need to build a workflow for repackaging was not so obvious.

artsurprise - repackaging - award 2014
artsurprise – repackaging – award 2014

In 2014, the ARTSURPRISE project was recognized as an innovative project in Bonn. The exhibition made the Kreissparkasse Köln aware of the project and we were invited to set up one of our art vending machines in the Neumarkt Passage in Cologne, right next to the elevator to the Käthe Kollwitz Museum.

An offer like this is very important for a project like ours. More than three hundred artists are now involved in the project. For many artists in the Orient, in Latin America or in low-income areas of Europe, the income from this project is vital. We could rightly assume that this new location would be attractive, attention-grabbing and helpful for the economy of our project.

In 2015 we installed the first Artsurprise machine at our location in downtown Cologne. In 2018 we had to replace the machine. At over 800 euros, the new (used) machine was one of our most expensive purchases. Not counting the conversion of the machine, transport and service, we were able to generate around 70% of this sum in the following time. But sure, this income was paid out to the participating artists without any deductions. They should not bear the risk of this loss. The damage remained with the initiator of this project.

The attention of visitors of the museum and of the shopping mall was very high. We received many mails and also inquiries from gallery owners who noticed the project in the passage. All of this gave us hope that the location would continue to develop well.

Unfortunately, the machine was stolen by two thieves on a sunny shopping day in 2019. The two criminals dragged the machine on foot through the city center from Neumarkt almost to the cathedral. Their action was recorded by numerous surveillance cameras and smartphones by passers-by.

The comment from the police commissioner: „I have never had such a well-documented theft in my career!“

artsurprise - repackaging - securing protocol 2019
artsurprise – repackaging – securing protocol 2019

The machine was secured and the thieves were identified. Still, it was a total loss. The machine had suffered greatly from attempts to break into it. It was no longer usable. In addition, the boxes in the shafts had suffered greatly, too. Some had to be destroyed because the art they contained was damaged.

artsurprise - repackaging - damaged boxes 2022
artsurprise – repackaging – damaged boxes 2022

At that moment, the question arose what to do with the remaining damaged boxes, which contained untouched artworks. In order to put the art back on the market, the art had to be repackaged. With the new packaging, it was also necessary to subsequently print out the selected labels again.

artsurprise - repackaging - coding 2020
artsurprise – repackaging – coding 2020

Boxes from the Artsurprise project are unique. It wasn’t actually intended to reprint a label. Technically, it was not even possible to assign serial numbers twice in the workflow. The art in the box is unique, also the box as part of the overall work of art. In this case, however, it made sense to make the remaining works of art salable again. The proprietary merchandise management system has been expanded to include a function (rePrint Label).

With the new function, the labels could be reprinted.

artsurprise - repackaging - renewed boxes 2022
artsurprise – repackaging – renewed boxes 2022

If ARTSURPRISE were a for-profit company, this would certainly be the end of the story. But ARTSURPRISE is different. ARTSURPRISE is a social sculpture. It focuses on the long-term well-being of the artists involved, and it wants to innovatively stimulate the art market and expand it with a new form of art. That’s why we don’t give up.

Especially in these times it is important to promote culture. Right now it is important to show artists perspectives. Right now it is important to encourage and face the new challenges of this time. So the story continues.

artsurprise repackaging - some prototypes
artsurprise repackaging – some prototypes

We will write to the owners of the Neumarktpassage, we will talk to those responsible for the Käthe-Kollwitz Museum. We would like to set up a new machine in the Neumarkt-Passage. We will report here how it goes on.

If you would like to support us with this project, you can easily help us. In order to finance a new (used) machine, we exclusively offer four ARTSURPSE COLLECTORS SETs with 25 boxes.

Write a email to o f f i c e (at) a r t s u r p r i s e . e u with the subject „collectors set 25 repack“ and you will receive a personal offer.

Each set will receive one of the boxes that survived what is probably the biggest art robbery in the Neumarktpassage in Cologne till now.

ARTSURPRISE - Collectors Set 25 Boxes mixed
ARTSURPRISE – Collectors Set 25 Boxes mixed

Edgar Brons is one of the hidden champions in the german comic art scene over the last 50 years. As a multi-discipline author, drawer, photographer and painter he likes to play with all kinds of materials and themes. One of the most important values of his character is his fine and deep humor, in which he is even able to smile about himself: Edgar Brons – Breeze – 2011

Norbert Weise published his series Cut outs in the early years of ARTSURPRISE. His art is special, storytelling and even the little pieces of bigger works are full of humans, stories, dynamics: Norbert Weise – Cut Outs

Sonia Eva Domench lives and work in Valencia. He work was shifting step by step fromm objects to drawings and paintings. The ARTSURPRISE series smiling faces are well-known and a few works are still awailable. Nobody uses them for social network profiles, they are no avatars for anybody. They are not limited in definitions. Nobody labels them or puts them under a headline: student, snob, customer,… Nobody can tie them to customer loyalty systems like credit cards or customer cards. These smiling faces are not restrained by group memberships, they are not limited to closed social networks. They can jump through all groups: Sonia Eva Domenech – Drawings – No ID

Sonja Blattner is known for her stilt houses. Drawn, painted, as an object, these buildings appear again and again in her work and address the house as a place of residence, as possession, as property, and remind of the countless open questions regarding real estate in East Germany. But Blattner also has a very special eye for animals, which sometimes populate her works. Cats attract her in a special way. With a light yet sure stroke, she captures the liveliness and a bit the arrogance of these beings. Cats have accompanied humans for many centuries and, unlike dogs, have always retained their own independence. The power of these self-contained beings literally jumps out at you from Blattner’s work: Sonia Blattner – Paintings – 2013