SNAPSHOTS: Is It Legal?
A local gallery is interested in selling some of my work, but I’ve never
signed a contract before. What is standard in a gallery agreement and
are there any questions I should be asking?
Is It Legal?
An artist-gallery relationship is both a contractual
one and a fiduciary one. Some galleries operate
on a handshake arrangement, based on trust and
reputation, and others have agreements that detail
the obligations and responsibilities of the gallery and the artist.
My preference is to have a short but clear written agreement so
parties understand each other’s roles and obligations, which
can avoid problems down the road. However, if a very reputable
gallery operates without an agreement, you would not want to
turn down a career-advancing opportunity based solely on a lack
of written contract.
In general, it is good practice to find out about the gallery and
its owner from other artists represented, to see if the gallery
would be a good fit and has a reputation for treating its artists
fairly. Asking for references is a way to contact other represented
artists. Pertinent questions to ask include whether reporting was
clear and accurate, if payments were timely and, if a relationship
terminated and the artists parted ways with the gallery, if the work
was promptly returned to the artist.
Once you get past the initial reference stage, you should review the
agreement terms if they were written, or, if oral, have some questions
ready to ask.
Here is a quick checklist.
q LENGTH OF AGREEMEN T. Is it a set term, such as one year with an
automatic renewal? If so, can either party terminate upon notice after
a length of time?
q WHAT’S COVERED. If the contract is worldwide and exclusive, all
representations with other galleries around the world will be through
the gallery (sometimes called a dealer). Other agreements are limited
to specific works, such as works in an exhibition, and others are limited
to one geographic area (some artists have multiple contracts by city,
country or continent).
q COMMISSION. The amount of commission and how it is calculated
should be clear. A typical commission is 50 percent, and whether
expenses are deducted before or after commission should be stated.
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