Exhibition Agreements

Most public galleries and many private ones put on exhibitions solely for the purpose of making the work of an artist or group of artists available for public view – selling is only incidental;

these are usually ‘one-off’ arrangements whereby the gallery acts primarily as exhibition organiser – any sales are negotiated by the gallery as a secondary service, as agent for the artist. Such deals are simply ‘Exhibition Agreements’ and are distinguishable from ‘Gallery Agreements’ (which only a handful of so-called ‘West End’ galleries are able to offer to a small number of artists) whereby the gallery ‘takes on’ the artist as a permanent member of the gallery’s ‘stable’, for the purpose of promoting the artist’s work generally by exhibiting for sale, publicising and dealing in it as sole agent for a stated or unstated period of time and in specified or unspecified countries.
Although ‘one-off’ exhibitions are common, agreeing their detailed arrangements is not a simple matter and misunderstandings between gallery and artist often occur, particularly when a written agreement is not used – which is usually the case. This can be detrimental and costly to the gallery, the artist and the public, and should be avoided.

The Exhibition Agreement below is necessarily long and illustrates how many matters have to be arranged and agreed, even for the most straightforward exhibition; if galleries were to produce such an agreement and use it as a standard form, a lot of their administrative work would be considerably reduced, both parties would clearly see their respective rights and duties and each would know when a show has been offered and has been accepted. Moreover, it will be seen that such a form can be used to make arrangements with individual artists for a group show and for a touring show, which many galleries and other administrators frequently undertake.

Of course, it is for galleries and artists themselves to decide what form of agreement will appropriately meet their needs, and what agreement they wish to make: the following is a suggestion.

Exhibition Agreement

This is an agreement between

(the Artist)

(the Gallery)
by which we agree:

  1. Exhibition. The Artist shall provide the Gallery with work to be exhibited by the Gallery; in consideration of which the Gallery shall provide the Artist with an exhibition of the work and shall pay the Artist an Exhibition Fee of £ ________on collection of all unsold work after the exhibition.
  2. Venue. The Gallery shall exhibit the work between _______________________________________ and, at_________________________________________ in the following space: ________________________.
  3. Work. The Artist shall provide the following work to be exhibited from which the Gallery Director shall select the exhibition:
    – existing work:
    type of work ________________________________
    number of pieces ____________________________
    – projected work:
    the artist shall provide work to be created specially for the exhibition and shall submit by __________________________to the Gallery Director detailed plans, requirements and proposals which shall be subject to the Gallery Director’s approval, which shall be given to the Artist in writing; if, upon sight of the completed work, the Gallery Director does not consider the work to fulfil the outlined proposal, the Gallery reserves the right to refuse to exhibit the work.
  4. Delivery. The Artist shall deliver the work to be selected for exhibition to the Gallery between _____________ and _____________between the hours of_____________ and _____________; and on delivery shall be paid £ _______ by the Gallery to cover transport costs.
  5. Hanging. The Artist shall hang the work selected for exhibition on _________ between the hours of _________ and ____________; in the event of disagreement over hanging the work, the Gallery Director reserves the right to make the final decision.
  6. Collection. The Artist shall collect all work on the Gallery premises by ________ on the ____________, and after this time the Gallery shall not be responsible for any damage to/loss or destruction of the work from any cause including negligence by the Gallery, its servants or agents, or by any other person; the Gallery reserves the right in its own discretion to dispose of any work on the premises uncollected after the agreed collection time.
  7. Damages. If a work is lost, damaged or destroyed during the exhibition period, the Gallery shall notify the Artist immediately and shall be liable to pay to the Artist the agreed selling price less the agreed commission; and for this purpose the Gallery shall insure each work up to a maximum of £ _________per piece.
  8. Opening hours and invigilation. The Gallery shall be open to the public during the exhibition period between ___________ and ____________ day to day, and the Gallery shall provide invigilation for the exhibition during that time which shall not include the operation of machines or the special attention to any particular exhibit, except by prior written agreement with the Gallery.
  9. Publicity. The Gallery shall carry out all publicity for the exhibition, shall be responsible for its design, layout, content, printing and distribution and shall meet the costs thereof; the Artist shall provide the Gallery by ___________with the following publicity material:
    a biography;
    a list of works to be exhibited, including size, date and details of materials used; c. an Artist’s statement; d. at least two black and white photographs of a quality suitable for reproduction showing pieces of work to be exhibited.
  10. Sale of Work. All works exhibited shall be for sale, except where the Gallery agrees to exhibit work ‘Not For Sale’, which shall be stated in the exhibition catalogue or elsewhere in the exhibition.The Gallery shall advise on pricing the work, but the Artist reserves the right to make the final decision.

    Exhibited work shall be sold only through the Gallery during the exhibition period, and the Gallery shall take commission on any sales at the rate of _______%; the purchase prices less commission shall be paid to the Artist by cash/cheque on collection of all unsold work after the exhibition.

    Sales shall be carried out using the Artists Bill/Contract of Sale, copies of which are attached.

  11. Private View. A private view shall be held on _________ between the hours of and _________; the Gallery shall provide wine to be sold and staff to serve it, at its own expense.

Dated the ___________ day of 197_ .
Signed: _______________ (the Artist) and ______________________Gallery Director for and on behalf of _________Gallery.


By Clause 1 the artist agrees to provide a body of work from which the gallery director will chose the show (see Clause 3); the gallery agrees to provide an exhibition and to pay the artist a fee. Many artists, gallery directors and other art administrators feel that fees should be paid to visual artists (particularly by public galleries) for the gallery’s using their work to fulfil its main function – public exhibition – thereby properly remunerating the artist for skill and labour expended in making the work publicly available. If exhibited work is sold, that is a separate (if not secondary) function of the gallery which will be properly remunerated for making the sale possible by payment of a commission (agreed beforehand with the artist: see Clause 10). The words in italics can be left out if considered inappropriate. It is for artists and all arts administrators to debate and decide this fundamental issue which calls into question the professional status of all working visual artists.

Clause 2 speaks for itself and can also be used for arranging a touring show by inserting the venues and spaces on the itinerary.

Clause 3 enables shows to be arranged for existing/projected work or both; and if b. is used, it is made clear that the gallery director can refuse to exhibit the completed work if considered unsuitable.

Clause 4 clarifies delivery arrangements and ensures the artist is reimbursed for transport costs; the words in italics can be deleted if it is agreed that such costs will be included in the Exhibition Fee, but for subsequent tax returns a separate costs payment is preferable.

Clause 5 could also state what technical assistance will be forthcoming from the gallery (if any is available).

Clause 6 deals with a frequent problem by ensuring that the artist knows when to collect unsold work, otherwise s/he won’t be paid; that the gallery is no longer responsible for it and can freely dispose of it, after the collection date.

Clause 7 repeats Cause 4 of the Consignments Agreement (see Art Monthly issue10) and similarly acts as a reasonable assessment of the artist’s loss, so as to avoid the need for a difficult and costly exercise after a loss has occurred.

Clauses 8 and 9 speak for themselves, but make the position clear for both sides.

Clause 10: if works are not for sale the public should be told – often they are not; and if the Artists Bill/Contract of Sale is to be used to clarify the buyer’s position and protect the future existence of the work (see Art Monthly issues 7 and 8), this should be stated, the details of sale agreed beforehand and copies of the form given to the gallery – if not, delete the words in italics.

Clause 11 is often not agreed upon, particularly regarding the cost and who is to bear it.

There are many matters in this Agreement which are merely administrative and not strictly legal, but they have been stated because they have been known to have caused artists and art administrators many serious economic and aesthetic problems in the past and, perhaps, will continue to do so if not discussed, agreed and written down in advance of anybody acting on them.

In the next issue Gallery Agreements will be discussed.

© Henry Lydiate 1977

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.