Be Smart About Art

Contracts: A deal with the devil?

written by: Susan J Mumford Aug. 5, 2018 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan's weekly blog post 359 views

Contracts: A deal with the devil?

How many times have I heard someone on either side of the artist - gallery relationship say that issuing a contract means that there’s a lack of trust? There was even a time several years ago that a gallerist speaking at a BSAA event declared on stage that she doesn’t believe in formal agreements. She went on to say that spoken arrangements are all that you need. 

Merriam-Webster states that a contract is “a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties.” While it can be written or oral, people typically think of contracts as being documented in writing, accompanied by signatures or, these days, accepted over email by each involved party replying to confirm acceptance. 

So then, WHY issue such an agreement in writing? Here are my top three reasons that written agreements are fantastic for all involved parties in collaborations that I urge you take on board and to pass on to others, too: 

1. A contract helps to clarify that everyone is on the same page. 

Wait, what - is that what was said about commission split? And surely that’s not what we agreed about delivering pieces to clients? 

What one person hears can vary from another’s recollection. By putting things into writing, you confirm that everyone is on the same page. Should something go into a written agreement that you don’t think is right, address and amend it before signing, ensuring that all involved parties agree to the final version.

2. A contract is a useful reference point. 

What was the agreed commission split? Who was paying for return delivery if a piece went unsold? What was to happen in the circumstance that a piece the gallery framed got returned to the artist? Etc, etc. 

It’s easy to forget what was agreed... six months, a year, several years down the road. While it can seem like you’d always remember the fine points, life gets busy and memories of conversations fade and change. 

3. A contract is there to help when things change. 

Although the working arrangement made sense the day the agreement was signed, people and circumstances change. A ‘notice period’ clause can be a great help, should parties decide to part ways. A ‘dispute resolution’ section can be of assistance, in case a parting of ways is not amicable. Outlining what happens with works on consignment to a dealer, should a parting of ways take place, would help to guide many an artist and dealer. 

While not everyone will invest in paying a lawyer to create a formal agreement, putting together a DIY Contract goes a long way to achieving the above three points. Notice that in the three points above, nowhere is there anything about protecting you when you go to court. That’s because disputes rarely involve litigation, even though this might be what comes to mind when you talk about contracts. 

My take? Contracts are there to protect the interests of all involved parties.

Why not take positive action in your next collaboration and put an agreement in place that looks after everyone involved? 

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