What to Ask Before Signing a Gallery Agreement
Q: A local gallery is interested in selling some of my work, but I’ve never signed a contract before. What is standard in a gallery agreement and are there any questions I should be asking?
A: An artist-gallery relationship is both a contractual one and a fiduciary one. Some galleries operate on a handshake arrangement, based on trust and reputation, and others have agreements that detail the obligations and responsibilities of the gallery and the artist. My preference is to have a short but clear written agreement so parties understand each other’s roles and obligations, which can avoid problems down the road. However, if a very reputable gallery operates without an agreement, you would not want to turn down a career-advancing opportunity based solely on a lack of written contract.
In general, it is good practice to find out about the gallery and its owner from other artists represented, to see if the gallery would be a good fit and has a reputation for treating its artists fairly. Asking for references is a way to contact other represented artists. Pertinent questions to ask include whether reporting was clear and accurate, if payments were timely and, if a relationship terminated and the artists parted ways with the gallery, if the work was promptly returned to the artist.
Once you get past the initial reference stage, you should review the agreement terms if they were written, or, if oral, have some questions ready to ask.
Nancy E. Wolff is a partner at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard, LLP. Her practice focuses on intellectual property and digital media law
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