Art Business Essentials: Consignment Agreements for Artists

Emilie Trice | January 27, 2021 (Updated July 20, 2021)


What is a Consignment Agreement?

A consignment agreement is a comprehensive and formal agreement between a consigning artist and a gallery that is representing their work. 

While consignment reports are used to document artworks on consignment to a gallery, Consignment agreements are more extensive and often come first. Not all consignment agreements are the same. Agreements can be simple with few clauses or be heavily legal with detailed caveats to rules laid out and stipulations for what would happen if agreements within the document were not met.

Whether you are entering into a simple consignment agreement or a more complicated one, having a base understanding of how these agreements work and what you may want to include when reviewing an agreement is crucial to your success and business savvy.

Using consignment agreements creates positive and professional relationships with the galleries and sellers you are working with. A consignment agreement opens the conversation for not only displaying and consigning current work, but lays the foundations for clear, easy, and long-lasting relationships.


Who Benefits from a Consignment Agreement?

Both galleries and artists benefit from thoughtfully made consignment agreements. As your gallery benefits and can easily sell your work, you benefit doubly as a result! To understand why a consignment agreement is used, it's important to think through how using consignment agreements benefits you and the party consigning your work.

Galleries benefit from using consignment agreements, they will be confident in physically representing your art on their terms. While many consignment agreements specify that the art belongs to the artists until sold through a galley, the gallery is in charge of the care of your work for the time being. Having an agreement for how art will be stored, moved, and shown reduces room for error and potential damage costs for a gallery and stress for you the artist.

Another reason galleries benefit from and use consignment agreements, is so they can negotiate where else you will be selling your art. A consignment agreement sometimes includes an exclusivity clause or limitations about where else you can sell work. Some exclusivity clauses have stipulations about how far from a consigning gallery you are able to have other galleries also represent your work. These clauses and limitations help the gallery be able to represent you without other competition and allow them to sell more of your art.

Artists benefit from consignment agreements since agreements create clear terms for payment, the breakdown of the gallery's commission, and the dates that a gallery will show work for. Having these details on paper will help you organize your timelines and keep track of your accounting. 


When Do You Need a Consignment Agreement?

Anytime you consign your art to a gallery there is an opportunity for you to be using a consignment agreement. 

Having terms in place, whether very formal with detailed clauses or with more simple language, makes maintaining strong working relationships easier.


Common Consignment Agreement Terms

Typically, even the most basic consignment agreements have a few standard components. Look for the following elements when reviewing and drafting Consignment Agreements.


Elements of a Consignment Agreement:

Exclusivity Agreement: An exclusivity agreement dictates that a gallery will be the only agent representing an artist’s work. Sometimes an exclusivity agreement will have limitations like only maintaining an exclusive representation of an artist within a defined geographical area or for a defined group of work. 

Duration of Consignment: In a consignment agreement, the duration of the consignment will outline the dates that an artwork or group of artworks will be loaned and consigned to a gallery.

Responsibility for Loss or Damage: Consignment agreements specify who will be responsible for any damages to artworks as well as what to do in cases of art loss or damage.

Fiduciary Responsibilities to the Artist: Fiduciary responsibilities to the artist underscore that a gallery or consigning party has the artist’s best interests at heart. When consigning works, the party representing works is committing to working to sell those artworks. The selling party should be acting in the interests of the artist.

Pricing and Commission Agreement: Having a pricing and commission agreement is one of the most important elements of a consignment agreement. This agreement will lay out the terms for the prices of artworks and the commission that the gallery will receive if they sell consigned artworks. 

Framing Details: In some consignment agreements there are details about the frame of an artwork. For example, if the artwork will be sold with or without the frame that it is displayed in and how the cost of the frame will factor into or out of a commission price.

Art Transportation Responsibilities: Art transportation responsibilities cover all details of how pieces of art will be transported. This is an important element of a consignment agreement as safely handling and transporting art is key to keeping the artworks damage free.

A Gallery’s Promotion Intentions/Responsibilities: As every gallery goes about selling works differently, it is crucial to know how a gallery intends to market and sell works. Having details about a consigning gallery’s marketing and promotion intentions helps artists to know their own marketing plan as well as to make sure that expectations are clearly communicated between all parties.

Policies for Terminating the Agreement: It is important for both galleries and artists to have policies in place for terminating a consignment agreement. Consignment agreements should not just address all details during a consignment period, but clarify how and under what circumstances an agreement could be terminated.  


Examples of Consignment Agreements 

Want to see if your consignment agreement holds up to others in the industry? To view a sample consignment agreement, click here

If you are reviewing a consignment agreement, take your time. Make sure that you read through all of the document and that you ask your gallery questions and clarify if there is anything you don’t understand. Remember that this is an agreement between two parties, your opinion matters. 

If there is something that you’d like changed in the agreement, negotiate! Bring your business savvy and confidence to the table and make sure that any contract is equally beneficial. 


Beyond the Consignment Agreement

A document like a consignment agreement can protect you legally and dictate the terms of a relationship. Not only do you need a consignment agreement, but you need a consignment report that outlines details of your artworks that you are consigning. 

Consignment agreements are important to have as a professional tool and important to get a conversation going. As you continue to consign your artwork, the interaction, trust, and mutual understanding between you and a gallery you are partnering with are what matter most.

Not sure about working with a gallery? Trust your intuition and your network. Ask around, do some digging, or request a tour of the space or a meeting with the gallery owner. Above all, trust your instincts and work to find a good fit.

Your relationships with galleries are built on the back and forth interactions and on your communication. Make sure that you are keeping your gallery contacts up-to-date and that you are regularly sharing information about you and your art. A platform like Artwork Archive allows you to organize and group your contacts, for example creating groups for your galleries, clients, and artistic partners. Artwork Archive is an art career tool that makes sharing reports of your artwork, like portfolio pages, tearsheets, or an inventory report easy to do.

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