The Law Gorgeous is a new column by TheArtGorgeous where columnists and art lawyers Alana Kushnir and Yayoi Shionoiri answer your art world questions. Email your art x law worries to [email protected]
I’m an artist and just got offered my first opportunity to work with a gallery. The gallerist said “it’s better to not have a contract because that will allow for maximum flexibility.” What do I do?
First of all, congratulations! It is exciting and affirming to know that someone is interested in working with you to increase awareness about your artwork.
That having been said, the days of “GentlePerson’s agreements” are way behind us. Even if the art world still has some specific ways of conduct, in the 21st century, it is critical for artists to be empowered, and know and understand both their rights and obligations. Perhaps you might mention to the gallerist that you want to better understand how they work with artists, and that you would prefer to have a document so you are aligned. You should be prepared to discuss what you want that document to include, perhaps first answering for yourself what your goals are for your relationship with your gallerist. Maybe you want to test the waters by having one exhibition with the gallerist, and, in that case, the relationship will allow for flexibility, but your gallerist may not be as excited to commit a lot of resources and time on promoting your work. On the flip side, maybe you are willing to exclusively work with just that gallery, and, because of this, you may be able to expect more commitment from the gallerist.
Other significant aspects of the relationship you should consider discussing and including in the document are the expected cadence of exhibitions and their formats (for e.g., will you be featured in an OVR or at an art fair within 12 months? Is it a solo booth takeover or a group exhibition?); approximately how many new or pre-existing works you are expected to consign during a set period; what costs the gallery will be responsible for covering (for e.g., transport and insurance costs for consigned works, whether production costs of consigned works will be re-imbursed from sales, etc.); and the profit split.
If it turns out that the gallerist is unwilling to enter into a written agreement with you, that does not mean you cannot work with them, but it is an important data point. Perhaps it would be wise to limit your initial commitment to them, so that you do have the maximum flexibility to “thank you next”.
Good luck (and let us know your Insta handle so we can follow your adventures!)
Yayoi Shionoiri is an art lawyer and the Executive Director of the Chris Burden Estate and the Nancy Rubins Studio. Find her on Instagram here and at her website here. Alana Kushnir is the Founder and Director of Guest Work Agency, an art law and advisory firm based in Australia but international in reach. She is also the Principal Investigator of the Serpentine’s Legal Lab. Find her on Instagram here and LinkedIn here.
This article is of a general nature only and should not be considered specific advice.