An artist recently forwarded to me a copy of a contract a gallery had sent her to sign. Unsolicited, the gallery had contacted her with high praise for her work and an offer to represent her. The contact it expected her to sign was seven pages long. In my opinion, it was a ridiculously vague and one-sided contract to the benefit of the gallery that she could not sign without extreme prejudice to herself.
Galleries and dealers have to know the artists they take on are reliable, consistent and proficient, and that they will integrate beneficially into the gallery’s mission or mandate. Artists that cannot honour commitments, whose inspiration hits without regard for exhibition requirements, or who behave like a spoiled children are not the kind who will help the gallery attain or maintain a good reputation. The contract helps scare those away, or if they enter into the agreement, contracts give the gallery leverage in the negotiations.
A good contract, however, doesn’t just protect the gallery or dealer. An artist should never sign any contract that does not outline BOTH parties’ responsibilities and commitments IN EVERY DETAIL. I have known artists whose galleries have sold their work then billed them for so many hidden or related ‘services’ that the artist’s portion of the sale was less than 10% despite the original 50-50 agreement.
Here are some questions artists should ask and clarify BEFORE signing a contract with a gallery or dealer and then make sure they are dealt with clearly and bindingly in the contract:
What is the gallery’s mandate or mission?
What are the gallery owner’s, or dealer’s or curator’s qualifications and expertise?
What is the gallery’s role, the artist’s?
Is there a hanging fee? A wall fee? A gallery fee?
What is the commission on sales? On commissions?
What services does the gallery provide for its sales percentage?
For which services does the gallery bill the artist? What are the exact costs involved for each service (ie framing)? Are any shared by the gallery?
Is the contract exclusive?
If not, what are the expectations relative to sales through or exhibitions in other venues?
If so, what does the gallery guarantee contractually?
How many solo shows will the artist have and how often?
How many works will be expected for a solo?
How many group shows will there be? How many works?
Will there be off-site shows? What kind and how often? National or international shows?
What kind of promotion will be done for solos? For groups?
Does the gallery pay for any part of the work’s packaging its transport and storage, its insurance in transit to or from and on the gallery’s premises?
How and when are the works to be delivered to the gallery? Is the artist given an itemized, descriptive receipt for the work?
Is there qualified staff on site to handle it? Who packs it up?
How and when are the works to be returned to the artist?
What happens to the work when it is not on display? Where and how is it stored? Is it shown to clients? How long is it kept in storage?
How long after an exhibition or the return of the work to the artist does the gallery retain the right to its commission?
Is the gallery’s commission different if a gallery client sees a work in the artist’s studio that was never exhibited in the gallery?
The artist will not pay a commission on works never exhibited in the gallery and sold to clients who had no contact at all with the gallery.
Who hangs the show, does the lighting, the nametags, who handles the sales?
Who handles the opening reception? What is served? Who pays for it?
Is there a catalogue? Who writes the articles? Takes the photographs? Does the layout? Is there an invitation card? Pays for the printing?
What kinds of documents are required from the artist? When and how are they to be delivered?
How and when is the artist paid for a sale?
Does the gallery negotiate the price with the buyer and if so does the artist have to agree to discounts?
Who delivers the work to the client?
Is there a return policy for works?
Does the gallery ‘lend’ works on spec? Does it rent them?
Are there costs involved with promotion (invitation cards, articles, magazine spreads, etc.) or advertising (ads, posters, TV spots, etc.)?
Does the gallery have a mailing list? Does the artist have to provide a mailing list?
Who pays for the mailing of the invitation or who handles the e-mailing?
Is there staff on site during opening hours? What is their training and expertise?
What security does the gallery have?
How does the gallery use the artist’s images post exhibition? Does it obtain the artist’s permission every time, and send the artist a copy? (i.e. of magazine ads or articles)
Does the gallery expect to sell online? How is this handled since the copyright of the works remains the property f the artist?
Does the gallery expect to be able to reproduce the images in any format? For what purpose? Is the artist notified every time? How is the artist compensated?
When does the contract terminate?
What conditions are there for the artist’s withdrawal? The gallery’s?
Is the contract between artist and individual or artist and gallery? In either case, is the artist’s succession bound by the contract or can the contract die with the artist? What conditions apply to the succession? Can the artist’s executor re-negotiate the contract or enter into a new one with the gallery or individual?
These are some concerns that need to be addressed, answers to questions may bring up others.. It is not recommended that an artist sign a contract or send work to a gallery without going to the space and meeting the dealer, curator and staff in person. If this is impossible, it is advisable that friends or family visit the space and report back on such things as how they were treated by staff, how knowledgeable were the staff about the artist and art on display, how was the work displayed and lit, what was the documentation that accompanied the exhibition? If that is impossible, other fact-finding methods are: tracking the gallery’s activities on-line; talking to artists who are dealing or have dealt with the gallery or dealer; or contacting the local business bureaus to ascertain the legal status of the gallery and its reputation in the community.
Artists pay hefty percentages for the privilege to give their works to others to handle for them; they must protect the works and themselves, just as the gallery must protect itself. The gallery has no hesitation in asking artists for details or their training, for examples of their work, for their CVs, their statements, and any press or critical coverage, why should artists not ask gallery owners, dealers and even sales staff to show their CVs and prove THEIR reputation and qualifications as well?