Foreign Affairs

This article written in 1981 raises many still-relevant issues on applying for Opportunities.

The American Painters in Paris Exhibition fiasco, raises serious artlaw questions. Starting from the beginning, the nine-page booklet/seduction package makes interesting reading. Put yourself in the artist’s shoes, receiving it in the cold studio light of a hungover morning. First, the cover, representing the whole project to be ‘Sponsored by: CIP Centre International De Paris, National Art Materials Trade Association, Lefranc-Bourgeois, Norton, Air France, and Dupont’. Who are these guys, and what’s the deal?

Well, M. Pierre Salinger in his Foreword tells you that he believes the age of massive international exchanges must be ‘extended and improved on the artistic and human level’. Who could resist, especially such blandishment as ‘For you, “the artist”, this is an exceptional occasion which calls for your full attention and appreciation. Never before has such an opportunity been offered’.

The Organisers
The American Painters in Paris Exhibition, we are told, is organised by ARGRAF, a ‘cultural association for the knowledge of the American graphic arts in France’ which is in fact a ‘non-profit association under the Act of 1901, whose aim is to promote American Art in Europe, especially in France’. Hands up those who now think ARGRAF was set up in 1901. Go directly to jail, do not pass ‘GO’ and kiss good-bye to your 200 dollars! What it is really saying is that the French Act of 1901 made laws about the setting up of non-profit associations (charities) in France, and that ARGRAF is one such body; but what they don’t tell you is that ARGRAF was set up in 1974, or that the real organisers, and the ones solely responsible in law and financially, are a trading company called ‘The American Painters in Paris S.A.’, which was set up by ARGRAF in 1975 – and which filed for bankruptcy as soon as this whole pack of cards began to tumble in March 1976!

When and Where
The exhibition was to be displayed ‘in Paris, from December 15, 1975 to January 15, 1976’ at the ‘New Convention Centre, in the heart of the city, where your art work will be displayed, for one month, for millions to see’.

Results for You
Promotion by American and French Press and Television, Awards and ‘a certitude of international reputation’.

Entry Fee
No cost, but ‘those who have been selected by the judges will pay an entry fee of 200 dollars per art work’. Wait a minute, weren’t we just told that we need only rely on our artistic talents? Oh well, this fee will cover ‘transportation from New York to Paris, round-trip, insurance, advertising, exhibition, gallery rental, hanging, arrangement expenses and exhibition programs’. Wonderful, but what about the expenses of getting the work to New York and back if the work is rejected in Paris?

Finally, let’s look at the entry form.

Simple steps to participate in a unique thoroughly organised promotion
Nine steps to heaven:
Step one: send to the organisers in Paris 35mm slides of your work, together with the signed entry form in which you agree that ‘this application does not entail any liability of any kind for either party’.
Step two: the selection committee (unnamed) will look at your work and, if selected, will register them and send you a ‘favourable selection notice’ together with a detailed agreement for entry in the exhibition.
Step three: sign your agreement and send it to Paris with your $200 entry fee per work and payable to ‘American Painters in Paris’ – note, not payable to ARGRAF; then ship, at your own expense, to their New York office (address of which will only be given if you get through the process this far!).
Step four: ‘from this point your task is finished and ours begins’; all works will be insured from moment of receipt at our New York office, round-trip, and through Air France for the flight.
Step five: there will be voting ‘by the public’ (?) to choose 50 from those who have sent in their 200 dollars, and then the seven specialists will judge the top 15 winners.
Step six: five prizes, each of 5-4-3-2-1,000 dollars plus eight days in Paris ‘all expenses paid’; and ‘an assurance of promotion and exposure for one year in important European and American cities’ (where?). Also, ‘ten honourable mentions’ who each get eight days in Paris ‘all expenses paid’.
Step seven: all the professional publicity you could wish.
Step eight: if you wish to sell, that will be the subject of a separate deal, the details of which will only be notified to you if you sign the exhibition agreement you haven’t yet seen and send your money to the enigmatic organisers.
Step nine: just fill out your form and send off your slides.

If anyone still with us is by now not at least sceptical, let’s look at the queries that should immediately spring to mind:

  1. What happens to the slides in Paris, irrespective of whether the artist is selected?
  2. Who is to be the selection committee? And if the artist is told of ‘favourable selection’, this merely means that a contract will be sent which then has to be signed and sent back with 200 dollars per work. Why are not the contractual terms published in the booklet?
  3. Why is not the New York address given – was there really such an office?
  4. What kind of insurance, to what value per work, on what terms and with what insurance company?
  5. Who are ‘the public’ and why are they voting to decide whose $200 will go down the drain and into someone else’s poches?
    This step means that, of all the entries, only 50 are to be shortlisted – by the public – and only then will the specialist (unnamed) choose the final exhibiting fifteen. What a killing to be made. For example: 2000 entries at $200 per work = $40,000. (How much is it likely to cost the organisers to show fifteen, perhaps quite small, pieces in a public exhibition place for one month? Not much.)
  6. However, one must offset the cost of prizes totalling $15,000 plus the cost of fifteen winners’ expenses for a week in Paris. But, do these expenses cover being in Paris or flying to Paris and back, too?
  7. What kind of promotion and publicity could possibly be guaranteed? Supposing the media are not interested in this minute show?
  8. And should any buyers go along, what kind of agency deal and rate of commission are the organisers going to insist upon?
  9. Is anyone still with us even remotely interested in taking the bait?

The biggest question glaring through all this rubbish is what the organisers hoped to get out of all this hype. How did they propose to cover their losses? Nowhere is there any indication of the overall financial arrangements: the turnover involved; guarantees against losses; who the organisers were.

A more honest and open way of selling this deal would have been to say: ‘For a non-returnable investment of 200 dollars, your work may be selected for an exhibition which may result in your work being exhibited in the Paris conference centre, with fourteen other works, and in your winning a prize worth between 1-5,000 dollars’.

Should this kind of project ever be tried again, artists should:

  1. read the literature with care and a certain degree of healthy circumspection;
  2. check on the organisers, their identity, trustworthiness and financial stability;
  3. consult the British Embassy in the foreign country, the foreign country’s Embassy here, and, possibly the British Council here;
  4. consult the IAA here and in the foreign country;
  5. take legal advice here.

© Henry Lydiate 1981

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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.