My recent post for artists who want to secure art gallery representation brings me to another important question. How should you proceed when a gallery is interested in selling your artwork? The gallery / artist relationship can sometimes be a fairly loose business, based on little more than a handshake deal. I think it’s wise to come up with an art gallery contract. Consider the following story:
Once upon a time in a Colorado resort town, an established art gallery began to display the works of a young painter. The gallery director had been in the business for years and represented a number of artists. Some had decades of experience and established reputations.
This new artist had little experience in this kind of environment, having been represented by only one other gallery. But he eagerly provided several framed paintings for display after little more than a handshake agreement with the director.
Months went by. The artist lived a few hours away, so he called the gallery periodically to check up on things. More months passed. The gallery staff stopped answering his calls. They stopped returning voicemails. Then suddenly, the gallery phone number was no longer in service.
The artist scrambled, not quite knowing what to do next. He called one of the other gallery artists who immediately drove to visit the gallery in person. The gallery was closed and locked. The artist put in a call to the owner of the gallery who had put the director in charge and trusted her to handle all the gallery business. The owner didn’t know the gallery had been closed. She came and unlocked the doors, but it was too late. A few of the paintings were there inside, but most had gone missing. The police were called. The gallery director was found and questioned. Her lawyer got involved and complicated the search for answers.
I am, as you may have guessed, the artist in this story. It took place in 2001. To this day I don’t know what happened to five of my paintings from that gallery. Many other artists lost paintings too. Some lost dozens. Had they been sold? Given away? Traded? Stolen?
The worst part is that this kind of story isn’t all that uncommon. Talk to a few artists who have worked with galleries and you’ll likely hear similar stories.
So it’s wise to come up with an art gallery contract — a business agreement — that both you and the gallery director can discuss and sign. It may not save you from the type of story above, but it can help you to identify red flags that might appear during talks with a prospective gallery. It also gives you a chance to talk about issues that will likely come up in the course of business and decide how they will be handled.
Click to download my sample art gallery contract in PDF form. You can then copy and paste the text into your favorite word processor to input your specific details. I based my art gallery contract on a template offered by Scott Burdick and Susan Lyon.
Remember that as an artist, your relationship with any gallery is a partnership. Both you and the gallery should be responsible to make the relationship work. Do what you can to protect yourself and your artwork with an art gallery contract.