The Basics of Art Gallery Contracts

Gallery Contracts Sculpture

“A gallery representation contract is in a lot of ways like a marriage contract”

Having your work shown in a gallery can be a great way to build your art brand and expand your market reach.  If you are represented by a gallery you are entering into a legal agreement between you and the gallery.  As with any legal agreement it is important to know what you are getting into. The same goes for having your work represented on an online gallery as well.

Good business relationships are based on having a good understanding and an agreement of what is expected of all parties. I have heard from many galleries that artists are a “pain” to work with and an equal amount of artists that say that galleries are a “pain” to work with.  My suspicion is that most of this comes from relationships forged on a lack of understanding of what is expected, who is responsible for what, and typically the lack of a formal written agreement.

A gallery agreement is a legal document

Typically with a gallery you will have to enter into a contractual arrangement. This may seem painfully obvious but a gallery agreement is a contract and like any contract it is a legal document. If something goes wrong and there is a dispute you may enter the realm of lawyers, courts and the expenses that go along with them.

A good contract will benefit both the artist and the gallery.  Don’t be rushed into signing a contract! You may be presented with a contract that is “the one everyone signs” or “our standard contract” – think carefully before you enter into any agreement. Make sure you understand the obligations of both parties and how the contract will affect your business now and in the future.

And speaking of signing a contract – you may have the heard the saying “an oral contract is as good as the paper it is written on”.  Whenever possible get your agreements in writing and avoid future misunderstandings!

Gallery Contracts Sculpture

Make sure you know what you are getting into before signing an agreement with an art gallery.

Online art galleries

Today many artists show their work on online art galleries.  Just because you haven’t signed a contract doesn’t mean that you haven’t entered into one.  When you agree to the terms of using online gallery representation it is the same as if you had signed a written contract.  Read carefully the online gallery’s terms and conditions before you press the “I Accept” button.  If you post or share images of your work on online photo sharing networks or social media platforms it is probably a good idea to check their terms and conditions as well.

Some things to look for in any contract with a gallery

Art gallery representation contracts should cover the basics of how the relationship between the artist and the gallery will be conducted.  A contract may also have special clauses or items that are not typical – these require special attention and understanding.  Here are the basics that you should look for in any gallery contract:

  • Is the contract written?
  • What period of time does the contract specify for representation?
  • How does either party get out of the contract?
  • What are the gallery location(s) and hours?
  • What is the exhibition schedule and duration?
  • What are the due dates with respect to: contracts, bios, price information etc., gallery take down & restoration, pick up dates
  • Who is responsible of marketing and what are the specifics?
  • Who is responsible for installation and take down?
  • Who is responsible for gallery restoration?
  • What is the commission split on the sale of your art?
  • Is the contract for the purchase of your works, guaranteed minimum or consignment on a best efforts basis?
  • Who is responsible for the transportation of artwork to and from the gallery or customer?
  • What insurance is to be provided by both parties?
  • What are the requirements with regards to accounting and record keeping?
  • What are the stipulations with regards to the inspection of yours and the gallery’s books?
  • Do you need releases for images of art, the artist and written materials such as a bio or artist’s statement?
  • How will you handle new works of art?
  • Is the contract exclusive to the gallery, for how long and where geographically?
  • How are sales by the artist handled?
  • How are reproductions going to be handled?

Make sure you understand any agreement before signing it

If you have trouble trying to decipher the “legalese” or you are not sure about what something means then seek out the advice of a qualified professional. There are many attorneys that specialize in art law and they can help you with gallery contracts as well as other art business matters. Many arts organizations also have access to legal advice as well as sample gallery agreements that you can use.  You may also want to seek out the advice of other artists who have real experience with galleries, but remember this isn’t a job for “Uncle Bob or Aunt Jane” who once had their art hung in a gallery.

The bottom line(s)…

Galley representation can be a great way to build your brand and sell more art – if you do it right! Remember that with most any contract everything is negotiable. Before you sign an exclusive contract make sure that it will be beneficial to you. Make sure you abide by the things you have agreed to and make sure that the gallery upholds their part of the deal as well.  Good Luck!

By Neil McKenzie

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