Time for a Dear Alyson letter. Question from anonymous:
I have a situation that I have not come across before and believe you could provide an answer or some insight. From time to time a gallery director shows my work. When he does, we have a 50/50 agreement. I am not exclusive with this gallery.
This same director is on retainer by a restaurant owner to work with his interior designer. He looks to the gallery director – paying him a monthly retainer – to provide rotating (every 4-6 months) artwork for the walls of a "hot" new restaurant in town. To open the restaurant, he came by my studio and selected about 8 pieces (prints) for this purpose. We agreed upon 70/30 for any sales. The restaurant, despite all of the directors efforts to get them to do so, never promoted the work as for sale – neither my name and prices nor his name and gallery was ever visible on any literature or signage. How many customers in the restaurant would even consider that maybe the work was for sale? Few if any, I suspect, even if they admired it.
Here is my question: When the restaurant changes out my art for other, and if nothing has sold, does the GALLERY DIRECTOR "owe" me anything except a thanks!? I realize the only (written) contract was based on sales – should/could I have negotiated anything from him for the use of these pieces to the restaurant? Seems I have gained nothing and the restaurant got great free art for it's opening and the initial 6 months!
I hate to say it, but it appears that the gallery director owes you nothing. All arrangements should be discussed and negotiated ahead of time. The gallery dealer could have negotiated a rental fee with the restaurant owner and paid you a portion. He might have also negotiated an opening reception, invitations, and publicity (including table tents or handouts) on your behalf. (By the way, you could have done this with your gallery director as well.) Now, it’s too late as you already agreed to the 70/30 split with your gallery.
The time to lay out your terms is before any artwork leaves the gallery and goes to another site. And if you’re pressured to make a decision, delay. Always say “let me think about it and get back to you.” Go home, do some research, and respond well armed with your terms. And, yes, some gallery consignment contracts have these terms spelled out in them. If yours doesn’t, I suggest a face-to-face meeting with your director and an additional letter of agreement that spells out the specific terms for that situation.
I would be curious to know what the monthly retainer was. I’m also curious as to what would have happened if a piece had sold. Was there any incentive for the restaurant owner to sell? I’m sure the restaurant owner truly looked at it as inexpensive wall decor.
I think you should express your displeasure with your gallery director. You can begin asking him what he thought of the arrangement. How could it have been better for the gallery? Don't get angry because it's something you agreed to. Just tell him that you weren't happy with that situation and won't likely do it again without different terms. This up front honesty and action will empower you.
Don't spend too much time wishing you had done something differently. It's in the past. Be happy that you learned something and know how to handle a similar situation differently in the future.