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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 Yellow Butter Flower Pin by Harriete Estel Berman72
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.

Password Flower Pin by Harriete Estel Berman72Galleries 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.

Password Flower Pin (back view)  by Harriete Estel Berman
  Password Revealing Glasses Flower Pin
  Harriete Estel Berman © 2011
  Post-consumer recycled tin cans

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

Amaretti Flower Brooch by Harriete Estel Berman72 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.

Amaretti Flower Pin by Harriete Estel Berman (back view)
Amaretti Flower Pin      © 2011
Post consumer recycled tins
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

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.
Flower Pin Cadbury Woman Picking Behind the Curtain and Top Hat Man by Harriete Estel Berman72 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 Hots Flower Pin Back view by Harriete Estel Berman72
 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.

Red Hots Flower Pin by Harriete Estel Berman 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.