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
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.
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".
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.
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, paintings, 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).
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?
This post was updated on February 10, 2022.