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  • Artist, Gallery and Dealer Contracts,

    Agreements and Relationships

    Q: I've been talking with a local gallery that wants to give me a show in about six to nine months. It's all good so far, but I don't really know them that well. What kinds of questions should I ask? Should we have a contract? Should I use a template contract? What if the gallery doesn't use contracts? Would an informal agreement be enough? What should be covered in a contract or agreement?

    A: First the disclaimer. I am not an attorney and I do not offer legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact an attorney. Now let's get down to business....

    Certain basic terms, obligations, considerations and conditions should always be discussed and agreed upon by you and the gallery before entering into any type of business relationship. Having something in writing and signed by both parties is far better than verbal agreements or worse yet, winging it and seeing what happens. When you have something in writing, if anyone questions any aspect of the agreement at any future point, you'll have an actual document that clearly delineates the ground rules. You're entering into a formal business relationship, a partnership of sorts, and you certainly don't want to end up in a he said/she said argument or disagreement. That's never good.

    As for artist contract or agreement templates like ones you might find online, the problem with those is specific details of your pending business relationship or arrangement may not be appropriately covered or even mentioned. Opting for a template quick-fix can not only give you a false sense of security but can also end up being nothing but trouble. Instead, you really have to evaluate each and every offer or opportunity on its own and make sure you custom-craft any documents to include conditions unique to that situation.

    An artist/gallery contract, agreement, relationship or arrangement should generally include or at least consider the following factors:

    * How long will the agreement be in effect? I other words, how long will the gallery be representing you or your art? If the relationship is new, three months to a year is typical, after which time the contract can be renegotiated. Including an escape clause is also recommended. For example, if nothing sells after a certain period of time-- say six months-- or the arrangement simply isn't working out, either party has the right to terminate the relationship by giving 30 days written notice to the other.

    * Geographic exclusivity. What will the representation consist of? Will it include all of your art or specific works or bodies of work? If the relationship is new or untested, it's better that the gallery does not have control over all of your art, and that they only represent you within a specific geographical area-- say within a fifty-mile radius of the gallery for example. Allowing a gallery to exclusively represent all of your art everywhere or over large geographical areas where no other gallery can show you is not a good idea early on. That's relinquishing too much control too early-- before either of you have any idea how the arrangement will work out. Start slow, see how things go, and then assuming things go reasonably well for all concerned, gradually revise or expand the parameters of the agreement.

    * Online exclusivity. Will you be allowed to sell any art online? If so, what? These days, artists want to maintain a certain level of control and autonomy over their online activities. The gallery needs assurances from you that they have the rights to sell certain works for certain periods of time. And you need assurances from the gallery that you can still maintain an active online profile, including being able to sell art that the gallery has no interest or investment in.

    * Will specific works of art be consigned to the gallery? If yes, those works should be accurately itemized in detail including descriptions, dimensions, medium and any other significant characteristics, and all this along with images of each work. The time period during which they will be in possession of the gallery should also be specified, after which you would be free to take them back. That time period can always be renegotiated if things are working out to everyone's satisfaction (or shortened via the escape clause if they're not).

    * Will your relationship with the gallery have any effect on your website or social networking pages or overall online presence? If so, what? For example, will you have to remove prices, specific images, contact information, etc. and if yes, which ones and for what period of time? Will certain types of posts have to change or stop during the duration of the contract? If yes, how?

    * Will you be able to sell art on your own outside of the gallery? On your website or on social networking pages? If yes, what art can you sell and under what conditions? Will the gallery want a commission on outside sales? If yes, what percentage?

    * If you are being given a show, how long will it last? If you know the beginning and end dates, specify either the exact dates or a date range within which the show will take place. If you know how many works of art will be in the show, include that.

    * How many works of art will you be required to deliver to the gallery and by what date? After the show, will you be required to pick up your art and by what date? The more specifics here, the better.

    * Who will determine the look and layout of the show-- the gallery, you or both of you?

    * Will the show be advertised or promoted. If yes, how and where? If expenses are involved, who will be responsible and for what percentages of the total cost?

    * Who insures the art? Generally the gallery is responsible for art while it is on their premises. As for while the art is in transit, the two of you will have to determine that. Supposing art is damaged in transit or while being handled? Who is responsible for it then?

    * How will prices be determined? In most cases, you and the gallery discuss, agree on and then set retail prices.

    * What is the percentage split between the artist and the gallery? The gallery and the artist usually split the full retail sale price of a work of art evenly, or in the vicinity of evenly. Avoid situations where the gallery askes you to tell them how much you want for the art. That leaves the gallery free to mark it up whatever amount they feel like marking it up above and beyond your price-- possibly leaving you with only a small percentage of retail. Fixed percentage splits are best for starters.

    * Does the gallery have the ability to reduce a retail price if a potential buyer makes an offer? If yes, what percentage can that price be reduced? Ten to twenty percent flexibility on negotiating a final selling price is reasonable under most circumstances. Determining this in advance is always better than requiring the gallery to contact you during price talks and potentially jeopardize a sale (assuming you're even there to answer the phone or text). Art is often an impulse purchase and you don't want to interrupt the flow of negotiations.

    * How and when will you get paid? Being paid in full within thirty days of the gallery being paid for a sale is reasonable under most circumstances.

    * If you have any representatives, agents, referrers, etc. working on your behalf, determine what their commissions will be if they get you a gallery show or other forms of exposure. The commission arrangement may simply be a flat fee for making the connection, or it may be a percentage of sales. Percentage of sales is usually better for you because that way, if they get you a show or other opportunity that ends up selling little or nothing, you won't be on the hook for a fee.

    * If any third parties are involved in any transactions on the gallery's end such as agents, representatives, consultants, brokers or referrers are involved and will be paid percentages of whatever sells, retail or otherwise, find out who they are, what their percentages are, and how and when they are paid. You don't want to be in a situation where everyone else gets paid before you do.

    * How will the gallery keep records of sales, and should there be a question involving whether specific artworks have actually sold, how will you be able to verify that those sales have in fact taken place? Best arrangement here is for the gallery to report sales activity on a regular basis, say once per month, and to provide a complete accounting at the end of a contract or point at which it will be renegotiated.

    * Who pays for shipping or transporting your art to and from your studio to the gallery? Will shipping costs be split? If so how? Who will pay how much and under what conditions?

    * Who pays for framing, storage or other incidental expenses involved in preparing the art for your show? Does the gallery assume all costs or do you assume some of them? Or will certain of these costs be deducted from any sales?

    * Who pays for organizing, hanging or otherwise displaying the art? Will the gallery assume all the expenses or will they expect you to pay a certain percentage?

    * Will there be an opening for the show? If yes, who pays for any expenses involved with that? Things to talk about might include the printing of any announcements, postage, publicity, any food or beverages to be provided at the opening, and so on. With any incidental expenses, you don't want to be blindsided by requests from whoever's showing your art. All of these details should be hammered out in advance.

    * Should the gallery experience financial problems, you want to make sure unpaid proceeds from any sold art are entirely yours, and any of your art remaining at the gallery (or in facilities belonging to the gallery) will be returned to YOU AND YOU ALONE. In other words, a clear statement in the agreement that your art and proceeds from the sale of that art are exempted from claims by any creditors.


    Be aware that not all galleries or venues offering to show your art are interested in signing contracts or agreements. Or the documents they are interested in signing do not necessarily cover everything you'd like to have covered. Unfortunately, many artists are so eager to have their art shown, they're willing to overlook shortcomings, hope for the best, and go ahead with the arrangements anyway. That's fine as long as you're aware of the risks involved and what you stand to lose if things don't work out-- and you're OK with that-- but if you're at all uncomfortable about moving forward, perhaps wait until next time when the terms of the relationshop are more to your liking.


    (sculpture by Robert Arneson).

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