What should I consider when deciding whether or not to sign a written agreement with a gallery?

In particular, should I agree to a 12 month notice period and a commission on sales at exhibitions outside the gallery?

The wisdom of signing any business agreement, and especially such a sensitively personal agreement between a gallery to represent an artist, depends on the nature and extent of the precise terms and conditions specified in such an agreement. Each business relationship between artist and representing gallery is unique, and agreements between them reflect such uniqueness; which is why there is no art industry norm or common standard agreement model or template.

Artists should understand that all terms and conditions suggested by a would-be representing gallery are negotiable: for example, if the artist considers the notice period suggested by the gallery is too long, he/she should decide how long he/she would agree, and suggest that to the gallery; if the artist considers the commission amount is ktoo much, he/she should decide how much he/she would agree, and suggest that to the gallery.

Experience of galleries and artists in recent years suggests that written notice to end the relationship is common; and that 12 months is frequently used for the first year of the representation, or perhaps expressed as there being no notice to end the deal for the first 12 months after which the deal may be ended by either party giving the other 3/6/9/12/15 months termination notice. In other words, galleries and artists commit themselves to each other for at least 12 months, to give the relationship initial time to work, followed by a reasonable notice period to end the deal if it’s not working out. Even if a written deal is made committing the artist to a timescale, UK law would normally permit the artist to end the agreement at any time on condition that she paid financial compensation to the gallery for any business loss it suffered caused by an artists’ premature termination. In cases where there has already been a successful business relationship, this should give both parties confidence to negotiate a commitment timescale that builds on that success.

Experience of galleries and artists in recent years also suggests that the gallery would be entitled to a reasonable commission fee from sales not secured by the gallery.

Perhaps the most important take away point is that the gallery is suggesting that a written agreement is made and signed with the questioner: such written agreements are a sensible and sound way of doing business, which many galleries still do not practice.

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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.