Be Smart About Art

Are you signing away your life?

written by: Susan Mumford Sept. 27, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 2492 views

Are you signing away your life?

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

I was recently sitting in a café in New York on a sunny Saturday afternoon, enjoying coffee after a packed morning in which I gave a VIP tour of an art fair and did a spot of shopping. Whereas most of the café clientele were university students, two ladies who put together a makeshift meeting space with two chairs stood out.

One of them carried what appeared to be a portfolio while the other held paperwork. The latter handed over the stapled papers (a couple of pages with a lot of text) accompanied by a pen. Under instruction to sign, the recipient of the paperwork duly did so.

After another few seconds, my suspicions were confirmed; the top of the front page stated “Artist-Gallery Consignment Agreement”. I was witnessing the consignment of works of art at the beginning of a new season. Based on the layout and length of document, it wasn’t just a consignment note, but an artist/dealer contract relating to pieces being consigned. While I was delighted that paperwork had been prepared to confirm terms, I was disappointed as to the order of events.

It was following the signing that the dealer started to take the artist through the various points. No doubt she was explaining commission split, delivery and return arrangements, copyright status, payment terms and the like. The artist clearly wanted to understand the agreement and was accordingly asking questions, nodding her head and generally conversing.

But, what if the artist wasn’t happy with aspects of the contract? What if she wanted to change any terms?

It was seemingly too late, for she had signed without understanding what she was signing. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario and indicates that the artist perceived the dealer to have a commanding upper hand. This needn’t be the case, for the artist can readily take (peaceful) action to even out power dynamics.  

Whose fault is it that this happened? If you are the end receiver of an agreement, it is your responsibility to read terms prior to signing. Many people (including myself) have learned this the hard way.

However, there’s also responsibility on the part of the contract provider. As such documents are intended to represent the interests of all involved parties, it’s only reasonable to offer review of a document, inviting questions and suggested edits. The vast majority of artist – dealer contracts are tweaked, depending on variables such as medium, location of artist/dealer, etc.

Therefore if you are a creating of contracts and believe in win-win professional partnerships, you could email a copy in advance and ask if the other party is happy with the terms, inviting questions for clarification as well as suggested edits. The resulting final document will be understood by and agreeable to all.  

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