Is it ethical for a gallery to put consignment items in storage?

A reader of ASK Harriete asks:
Is it ethical for a gallery to put consignment items in storage? And if yes, is it ethical to do so without notifying the artist?


PAM All Natural Butter Flower © 2011
Post Consumer recycled plastic and tin
cans
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

Galleries and stores that call themselves "galleries" rarely can exhibit everything they have in inventory. This is especially true for a venue that wants to present a more refined, organized and uncluttered appearance. Most likely it is  necessary to put some work in drawers, boxes or in racks behind the scenes.


Galleries often have a storage room off limits to customers where they keep extra work. This allows the gallery to dedicate most of the exhibition space to the artists in the current show.


 

 

 

 

 

 

A well informed staff will bring out work from storage for clients interested in a specific artist or style of work.

 

So the answers to the questions:

YES,YES......However, I would like to add some provisos to the "YES".

The staff should always offer to bring out more work that may be in drawers, shelves or storage.

 

Work behind the scenes should be organized and accessible so the staff can find it easily.

 

I don't think that work on consignment (and presumably for sale) should be dirty, covered with fingerprints or tarnished. Framed items should be handled carefully in the racks. The frame and glass should not be dirty.



Amaretti Flower Pin      © 2011
Post consumer recycled tins
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

If you are concerned that your work is not on display, I would speak with the gallery or store before leaving more work. This can be really difficult to do, but present your concerns in a polite manner. Ask questions rather than make accusations.

 
Perhaps, the gallery/store routinely circulates work on consignment into the display area.  If you live nearby, you could update items at the gallery, leaving recent photographs, painting, etc. representing new work, and take home the "older" artwork. Maybe the gallery will give your work more visibility if they have "new" work to show their customers.

 


 Red Hot Flower Pin © 2011
 Post recycled tin cans
 Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

If you live far from the gallery, frequent interaction may be difficult. Shipping work can be expensive for the artist and the gallery. Call in advance and ask if they would like fresh work before shipping new work . . . and make sure that they plan to return the older work in their consignment inventory.

 

Keep accurate records.  Update  inventory records of work on consignment.

 

The best galleries and stores send an updated Inventory Record on a regular basis.  If your gallery/store hasn't done this in a while, send them two copies of your Inventory Record with a request to verify inventory and mail/email back a signed, dated copy so that everyone is on the same page.

 

If the gallery/store does not honor your request for an updated inventory record (every 3 - 6 months) for art or craft on consignment, I recommend that you request they return all artwork to you within a  reasonable length of time (e.g. two weeks).

 

 The best galleries and stores send an updated Inventory Record on a regular basis.  If your gallery/store hasn't done this in a while, send them two copies of your Inventory Record with a request to verify inventory and mail/email back a signed, dated copy so that everyone is on the same page. If the gallery/store does not honor your request for an updated inventory record (every 3 - 6 months) for art or craft on consignment, I recommend that you request they return all artwork to you within a  reasonable length of time (e.g. two weeks).

 

This may sound like a harsh recommendation, but if artists keep leaving work on consignment without the minimum inventory accounting, you are just asking for Trouble (with a capital T).  Too many sad stories start with poor inventory management.

Does this answer help you?

Harriete

P.S. I wonder what Brigitte Martin has to say? Brigitte ran a gallery for years.

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Comment by 2Roses on September 21, 2011 at 9:54am

We couldn't agree more Alison. The relationship between a gallery and artist is a business relationship first and foremost. Each partner has to fulfill obligations and duties for the relationship to work. Artists often put themselves at extraordinary disadvantage in a gallery relationship because they  think that being "accepted" at a particular gallery in some way "validates" their work. In reality there is much more to it than that. Dispelling the myth and fear that many artists have about the gallery relationship is a discussion well worth having.

We would add also that many gallery's have a legitimate complaint about artist's lack of organization and business sense which contributes to some of the common problems. This is not all on the galleries by any means. Artists - its YOUR business- manage it!

Comment by Alison B. Antelman on September 20, 2011 at 11:53pm

I am thrilled that this conversation is taking place...aside from the subject at hand, artists need to understand that working with a gallery is a dual relationship between the artist and gallery. Often, newer artists treat the gallery as employer or authority figure. An artist should feel comfortable having a conversation with the gallery owner and deal with all questions, problems, and issues that arrive. One of the reasons why I like the "professional guidelines" contract on the snag website is it forces discussion of uncomfortable issues that should be discussed. Gallery owners and artists share a business relationship based on trust and respect...mutually.

Comment by Harriete E Berman on September 20, 2011 at 11:13am

Thank you Brigitte for such a thoughtful and articulate reply.

Your  gallery was definitely establishing the best standard for a working relationship between the artist and the gallery. I wish all galleries had equal standards.

Harriete

Comment by 2Roses on September 20, 2011 at 10:10am

Harriete, having worked with galleries for over four decades we have add a big note of caution to this discussion. A lot of younger artists may take away the message that putting consigned work in storage is an acceptable practice. It is NOT! For the reasons Brigitte has rightly pointed out, putting work in storage is completely against the interests of the artist who has entrusted a gallery with inventory to sell.

 

The artist is already subsidizing the gallery's operations by placing consignment work in the first place. Why should we expect that our work and our capital is sitting in a box in the back room of the people who are supposed to be selling it? Artists bear this in mind the next time you ship your work to a gallery. 

 

This is a contractual issue that artists should address with the gallery agreement. Artists can and should insist that consigned work (or a portion thereof) be on open display at all times.

We also understand the retail need to rotate inventory and have fresh merchandise on display. This can be contracted for and defined. 

 

Harriete, thank you for starting this discussion related to artists rights and business practices. For those of you who have not availed yourself of Harriete's Professional Development downloads, they are an invaluable source of detailed business practice information for artists.

 

We can also state unequivocally that Brigitte's was one of the best galleries we have ever dealt with.

Comment by Brigitte Martin on September 20, 2011 at 9:05am

Ok, since you asked ... :-)


I did indeed keep meticulous records of my inventory and updated my artists every month about the sales that happened. I also paid every artist EVERY month when a sale was made the month prior. (Feel free to be in touch with anyone I worked with, they will be able to corroborate my claim.)


My reasons for doing so were quite simple. Since I am a jewelry maker myself, I could clearly see the situation from both sides. I know that it is critical for an artist to be paid on time and correctly. I am holding an inventory that does not belong to me, it is paid for by the artist. They are out of money right from the start of the relationship. I always treated my artists as equal partners, and it was incredibly important to me that they see me as someone they can trust with their work.


My place was rather small and I did not have much room for storage. I had to be very careful with what I wanted to show. I did exchange displays as the need arose, and when doing so returned unsold work and replenished as I went along. Since I showed light weighed items mostly, the shipping typically did not cost me or the artist all that much (of course I would pay for return shipping to the artist), and they appreciated when I was flexible enough to return and exchange work when it was needed in another location. I never had an issue with any of my guys.


I don't think it is unethical to have some work tucked away, as long as the artist is a) aware of it and b) most of the consignment work is out and we are talking of maybe 1-2 pieces stacked away. But I think it is definitely unfair to the artist if a big amount of work is out of view for an extended time. The saying goes: "You can't fish if your hook is not in the water." My goal was for my artists (and me) to make money, and they can't make money with work that's not out in view. Neither can I. It ends up being inventory that I have to pay insurance for and that just sits around and does nothing for anyone.


If an artist is concerned about their work being out of sight for an extended period, they should address this with the gallery as Harriete suggested. If this leads to nowhere, they should think about placing their pieces somewhere else where the work can be seen and sold.


PS: It goes without saying that work on display should be clean, carefully displayed and free of dust and fingerprints at all times. That is a responsibility of the gallery for sure.

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