Artist / Gallery / 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? 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. With something in writing, if anyone questions any aspect of the agreement at any future point, you'll have a concrete 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.
An artist/gallery contract, agreement, relationship or arrangement should generally include or at least consider the following variables:
* 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. Or you can include an escape clause. 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.
* 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. Allowing a gallery to exclusively represent all of your art everywhere or over large areas is not a good idea early on. That's relinquishing too much control too early-- before either of you have any idea how things will work out. Start slow, see how things go, and then assuming things go reasonably well, gradually expand the parameters of the agreement.
* Will specific works of art be consigned to the gallery? If yes, those works should be accurately itemized in detail including descriptions, dimensions and images. 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 work out to everyone's satisfaction.
* Will your relationship with the gallery have any effect on your website? If so, what? For example, will you have to remove prices, specific images, contact information, etc. and if yes, for what period of time?
* Will you be able to sell art on your own, outside of the gallery? 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? 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?
* Who insures the art? Generally, the gallery is responsible for art while it is on their premises. Supposing art is damaged in transit? 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 you tell the gallery 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.
* Does the gallery have the ability to reduce a retail price if a potential buyer makes an offer? If yes, then by what percentage can that price be reduced? Ten to twenty percent flexibility on negotiating a final selling price is reasonable. Determining this in advance is preferable to the gallery having to try and contact you during price talks and potentially jeopardize a sale.
* How and when will you get paid? Being paid in full within thirty days of the gallery being paid for a sale is reasonable.
* If any third parties such as agents, representatives, consultants, brokers or referrers are to be paid any percentages of a selling price, 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?
* Who pays for shipping or transporting your art to and from your studio to the gallery?
* Who pays for framing, storage or other incidental expenses involved in preparing the art for your show?
* Who pays for organizing, hanging or otherwise displaying the art?
* Will there be an opening for the show? If yes, who pays for any expenses involved with that?
* Should the gallery experience financial problems, you want to make sure that unpaid proceeds from any sold art are entirely yours and that any of your art that remains at the gallery (or in facilities belonging to the gallery) will be returned to you AND are exempted from any claims by any creditors.
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