Monday, 28 September 2009

Artist/Gallery Agreements

If you submit your work to a commercial gallery then some time in your life you will need to sign an agreement.

What is an agreement?It's an undertaking between you and another party - possibly a gallery, shop or someone who contracts your services as an artist. The purpose of the document is to agree to certain obligations by both parties, to decide who is responsible for what and to set out exactly what is expected from both sides. It is wise to set out an agreement before you commit yourself (or sell your soul)!

Who will write the agreement?
Usually it's the person/gallery who will be selling the artist's work or employing their services but, if one is not forthcoming you can always devise your own. It's fairly easy but you will need to make sure all eventualities have been covered.

Here's a scenario. You are taking your work to a commercial gallery and they have agreed to display your work, sale or return, for 3 months. Think about what you would like to see in an agreement by looking at the following questions.
Who owns the work?
What do you want them to do for you?
What should YOU agree to?
What are the hidden costs will you anticipate and who will pay them?
What percentage of sale should you agree?
How and when will you be paid?
Who will terminate the contract if it's not working?

Before writing or signing an agreement consider these three things.
Be Fair: gallery agreements are a two way street. Don't make unreasonable demands of them.
Protect Yourself: Make sure you know exactly what they expect from you. Write a contract where they can't make unreasonable demands of you.
Make it Harmonious: you want to keep up a good working relationship with the gallery. You both want the same thing - to sell your work.

Here is a list of what a good agreement should contain. Let's unpick them as we go along.
  • Sale or Return. Most galleries don't buy your work outright but will sell on your behalf. Any unsold work must be returned after the end of the agreement.
  • Gallery percentage. Galleries need to be paid for selling you work and will claim their fee by taking a percentage. This is usually between 20 - 50%.
  • Payment. Some galleries will pay you by cheque, some by BACS. Make sure the agreement states whether you will be paid monthly or when the total sales has reached a certain figure.
  • Ownership of work. You own the work the entire time it is in the gallery. The gallery may ask if they can photograph the work for publicity purposes. It's good to add something about copyright into the contract.
  • Costs. The agreement needs to be specific about who pays for costs including postage and delivery, return of your work, insurance and transportation.
  • Packaging. who is supplying this?
  • Damage. Faulty art work must be either replaced or the customer refunded. Some galleries will have a time scale that customers can return faulty goods. (Returns might not apply to earrings).
  • Commissions. Galleries may agree to pass customers direct to you or liaise with you regarding commissioned work.
  • Time Scale. Agreeing a length of time that the gallery will display your work. (4 weeks, 3 months, 6 months).
  • Publicity and Display. Gallery agrees to keep your work visible for the entire time of the agreement. Gallery will publicise your work as much as is reasonably possible.
  • Delivery/collection of your work. If you are not bringing the work yourself then you need to agree how it will be posted/ delivered and who will bear the costs.
When you sign an agreement you are agreeing to certain terms that you shouldn't break. Trying to "bend the rules" can be really irritating, not to mention unprofessional. For example:
Racing into the gallery on a busy day asking to take the stock for a craft fair that weekend (but I'll bring it back on Monday, honest)!
Calling to say you have had a better offer from a nearby gallery so you will be collecting your work before the end of the contracted date.
Agreeing to commissioned work, brokered by the gallery, and not telling the gallery so that they lose their % on the sale.
Complaining about the % taken - you agreed to it!
Criticizing the way your work has been displayed.
Complaining that the metal looks tarnished - you are quite welcome to come in and polish it yourself.
Making sub-standard work and then feeling aggrieved when the gallery calls to say that your necklace fell apart in the customer's hands.
Asking why the gallery hasn't advertised your work in a magazine or gallery catalogue. They will do it if you pay the costs!

The agreement should be signed by both parties and dated. Both parties need an original signed document to keep. If you are not happy with the terms of the agreement then DON'T SIGN IT! Instead try to negotiate with the gallery. The best way to keep a harmonoius relationship with a gallery is to talk to them and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Soon I will be posting about Exhibition Contracts which are slightly different and writing about how and why galleries take a percentage of sales.


  1. this is so helpful...but let's say you pay the gallery for a space in their wall, what would be the best terms inputed in the agreement?

  2. Interesting. Your agreement would need to reflect the following:
    Is the gallery also taking a commission?
    How long do they agree to show your work for?
    Is your work instantly the property of the buyer or does the buyer have to wait until the end of the exhibition?
    Ownership of the work and copyright is still the propertyof the artist.