The Gallery Contract - What's in It for the Artist?

Some galleries insist upon your signing an exclusive contract with them. I suggest you, in turn, politely insist on taking a copy of the document home to mull over. Any legitimate gallery will not refuse this. You must be sure of the terms you'd be accepting.

What is an exclusive contract?

This means you will not consign works to any other commercial gallery within a stated radius. Even if there is no written contract, you must be sure of the terms you'd be accepting. Most important are:

The percentage of Commission the gallery will take from your sales. Today, inner city galleries demand up to 60 percent. Some will charge a 'hanging fee' on top of this. When you are given a solo exhibition, the gallery may hold back a percentage of the sales revenue as your share in the expenses of mounting the show. Because your work's appeal to buyers is an unknown quantity until the first few sales are made, you need to take advice from the gallery on pricing your pieces. The gallery will take these costs into account when deciding the initial prices. Be aware they come under two headings:

(a.) The List price.

This is the price posted on the catalogue. It represents the price you and the gallery hope to achieve for that piece.

(b.) The Reserve price.

This is the lowest amount both artist and gallery have agreed to accept from a buyer.

TIP. Don't let your ego stand in the way of getting your work onto the market. Collectors talk to each other about their purchases and are a huge factor in boosting awareness of a new artist on the scene.

The contract must state a minimum Duration and a Termination clause, whereby either partner may dissolve the Agreement. You should photocopy this document and keep it safe for future reference.

What's next?

Buy a regular Invoice/Statement book with carbon copies. (There is no substitute for good old hard copy - paper and pen.) From day one, when you hand over your artwork for the gallery to sell, get a responsible staffer sign for it on your itemised and dated Consignment Note. Never leave work at any gallery without this.

TIP. Get a printing shop to print your name or studio name on the pages with your contact numbers - a really professional look. At the least, get a rubber stamp made or use a labelling machine to personalise the pages.

Finding out what the gallery expects of you.

Understood, even if not set out in writing, is that you will not sell directly from your studio, unless you pay the gallery some portion of its regular commission.

No matter how shy you are, you will be expected to take part in media promotions the gallery undertakes from time to time. These will be for the benefit of all the existing 'stable' of artists, or of a group category. So, until you reach 'star' status, just pitch in and be a willing participant.

You should never be pressured by the gallery to accommodate any client in ways you aren't comfortable with, e.g. to make a portrait if you only do landscape subjects. Or any other unacceptable request.

TIP. Settling in your mind, right now, the 'Line in the Sand' you will not cross, will make it easy to give a graceful but utterly firm refusal should the time ever come.

To sum up:

Just be sure you understand what you're signing up for, be content to wait for sales and recognition, be courteous and co-operative with the gallery staff and you will reap the rewards, without the angst of trying to do all the promotion and marketing alone.

Dorothy Gauvin is an internationally acclaimed Australian painter in oils who specialises in an epic theme of Australia's pioneers. See images of her 'Life-Story' portraits, an ABC of homemade tools for painters with arthritis, plus tips and advice for aspiring artists and collectors on her website at

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