Warning: Burning bridge behind you.
Some years ago I worked with an eager young art dealer in a major Midwestern city. She had very little experience, but she was well financed and ambitious for her gallery. A red flag went up when I arrived at the gallery and saw how she’d hung my paintings: The inner cradle was placed on one small nail rather than suspended from the wire I’d attached. (I asked for and got a more stable two-nail rehang.) A second flag waved vigorously when she exhibited a cavalier attitude about a painting she’d damaged slightly. I repaired the work to good effect, sales were made, and I was temporarily assuaged, though still apprehensive that this was the right situation for me.
For a second show, a brochure was published with typos and misinformation, and with images of work shown sideways or upside down. I’d asked to proof everything, but she was so late getting the material to the printer that there was “no time” for me to see it in advance of its going to press. This was after the full page ad in Gallery Guide was printed with my painting oriented incorrectly. The resulting brochure was useless to me—too mistake ridden to send out.
I was so pissed over the way things had been handled that I didn’t fly out to the opening. After a modest post-exhibition period (in which sales were made), I asked that my work be returned. I felt the dealer was too inexperienced to represent me. The bridge was burned.
Turns out that as the young dealer matured, she developed a good roster of artists, a strong exhibition history, a new and better location, and a sustaining collector base. Looking back, I believe I did the right thing, but I could have done it in a more politic way—one in which the bridge was temporarily closed, rather than burned to a crisp.
Metaphorically speaking we’re islands working alone in our studios, so bridges are the way we get our work and efforts out into the world. We build bridges through networking, through exhibitions, through what we say and to whom, through what we do and with whom. Burning bridges, then, is a radical act. Sometimes it's a foolish act, based on hubris or anger. Sometimes it's a desperate act, when other measures have failed. And other times it's a necessary strategy to put a distance between you and those who do not have your best interests at heart.
So today, I’d like to know about your bridge burnings. What were the circumstances and what were the results? If you had a do-over, would you light the metaphorical match or find another way to deal with a bad situation?