7 Legal Details of Commission Agreements

Working with galleries often means signing contracts. This is important because contracts outline the liability, authority, and responsibilities of each party.

While most galleries will have their own contacts (usually consignment agreements) when working with artists, you can’t assume that:

  • all contracts are the same
  • that they are written protect the artist
  • that they have all of the appropriate components of a contract

While we would like to think that galleries have their business management skills together, but thats not always the case. Poor record-keeping and a lack or professional legal practices is one way a gallery may be unprepared to work with artists. But consider another scenario where a brand new gallery may still be learning what sort of information they need to collect when working with artists. This demonstrates that the contract could not be right because of lack of knowledge or legal council, which is why artists need to be educated on the legal aspects of their business.

Contracts should:

  1. Define the extent of the gallery’s authority – type of work covered, geographic limits, etc.
  2. Note the duration of the agreement with options to extend or terminate the agreement
  3. State whether the gallery has exclusive authority to sell or if other galleries can sell the artists work
  4. List the amount of the commission that is paid to the gallery and the amount paid to the artist
  5. Spell out any additional costs that the gallery or the artist must provide or cover including insurance, promotion, storage, exhibitions, catalogs, framing, transportation
  6. Include values and rates important to the transaction including but not limited to the value of your artwork, sale price, and commission rate
  7. State the responsibility of loss or damage to the artwork

Reading Contracts: Its important to educate yourself on the basics of contracts and always read through them. This isn’t the long list of terms and conditions you get with computer software, these need to be read.

Don’t feel embarrassed to say you want to take a minute to look over the contract before signing. It doesn’t look professional to sign without reading. Real artists and small creative businesses understand the liability and responsibility associated with these types of transactions and the legal reasons behind needing and reading through a contract.

Negotiation: Remember a contract is always negotiable. This doesn’t mean you get to haggle every gallery on their commission rate. (You may look unprofessional if you try to debate your commission rate with everyone you work with) Some areas good for positioning negotiations would be insurance, cost of shipping, length or cost of additional storage.

Be sure to suggest additions if the contract is missing key information like the sale price of the contract. Have a conversation with the gallery and ask if the value can be added to the contract.

Insurance: Its really important to ask or figure out about the scope of insurance the gallery has to cover your art while its in their possession. They may have insurance to cover the entire work, or partial insurance. Full coverage insurance for your work is not the job of the gallery. If you are unsure about the protection or the policy the gallery offers, you may want to take out a floater insurance policy to cover possible damages that could happen. Always plan for the worst case scenario.

If you liked this blog, you may want to also read this article:

Navigating Commissions

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