Don’t be a dick.
That’s pretty straightforward. One does not need to belabor the point. It’s either your show or your artwork is part of a larger show, so be nice, be friendly, talk to people and don’t be a dick. It’s simple!
Recently I was sent an ‘Artist Agreement’ (contract) to participate in the 2012 Houston Fine Arts Fair. It contained standard boilerplate language that ensures the signer of the contract (me) will cover the ass of the Big Corporation that wrote the contract. It was fairly typical except for this:
If Artist elects to attend Exhibition, Artist shall contact [redacted] at least 15 (fifteen) days before Exhibition. A representative shall be in communication with the Artist. If you elect to attend, you agree that you shall dress and conduct yourself in a manner which is within the norms of a conservative art exhibition. You agree to abide by the code of conduct to be sent to you by [redacted]. You agree that if you violate any provision of this paragraph and/or the referenced code of conduct to immediately leave the premises of the Exhibition upon request. You acknowledge that failure to honor the request to leave may result in your being involuntarily removed from the premises. You agree to hold [redacted] and the Exhibition harmless from any liability resulting from such action arising out of Artist’s conduct violating this paragraph.
Seriously? How to dress and behave is written into a contract? You’ve got to be kidding me. I emailed the contract-writers with this question:
I've never seen anything like this in a contract before. Do you have a lot of problems with poorly dressed & misbehaving artists? I assure you as a mature adult over the age of fifty, I do know how to comport myself & dress properly for any occasion. Could you please send me the 'code of conduct' and the 'dress code' for this event? Go ahead & have your representative contact me. I had considered traveling to Houston for this but should I? Is there any benefit to my presence there? Does the gallery even want the artist present? Please let me know if my presence in Houston would be beneficial or even wanted.
And this was the reply I received:
This is a standard clause included based on what we witnessed at some of the openings we attended - both galleries and exhibitions, especially the ones which had open bars. It is business, not personal.
Artists are welcome to attend. It is up to you if you would like to. If it were a solo show, I would definitely encourage you to attend. Since this is a group show, it is different -- we have to be respectful to all 5 participating artists and cannot have one artist promoting his/her work at the expense of the others. I hope you can appreciate it and can relate to it.
There’s a whole lot wrong with both the contractual obligation and the answer to my question about it. First of all, as a mature man of fifty-three years of age I really do know how to comport myself at an art show. Secondly I am insulted; the last time I was lectured on what to wear and how to behave was when my Mommy was sending me off to Sunday school, and that was a very long time ago! Thirdly, there are no ‘standards’ in the art business, so don’t try to sell me that ‘industry standards’ bullshit, this industry has no standards. I’ve been in this business for over thirty years, believe me, if there were any standards, I’d of found them. Fourth, it is personal! Sure it’s ‘business’ but it’s ‘personal’ too. You can’t tell someone how to dress and act without it being personal. And no, I don’t appreciate it. Sure, I can relate to the fact that you are afraid I might embarrass you but your contract has no clause preventing you from embarrassing me. What if you act like a dick? Can I have the ‘art-bouncer’ throw you out? Ah, but here’s the tell:
…cannot have one artist promoting his/her work at the expense of the others…
That’s the real reason! No, I won’t ‘step on the toes’ of the salespeople. You don’t want me there. I’m not attending. Thanks for helping with the decision.
I had wanted to go to Houston and attend the Art Fair but now I’m afraid I might inadvertently piss someone off. I was looking for an excuse to go to Houston for some positive reason and this Art Fair was a positive reason but ‘behavior rider’ of the contract kind of pissed on my parade. Not that I’d planned on misbehaving, I just don’t need a lecture in the contract about how to behave. The gallery really does not want me there. This isn’t all that unusual. They seem to be enthusiastic about my work, but not so enthusiastic about me. And again, this is not unusual. They are afraid that I might somehow screw up their ability to make money off my artworks that I paid them to exhibit.
I guess I’ll save the expenses of a third trip to Houston in one year. I’d gone to Houston to attend my Mother’s funeral last month, and my Father’s six months ago; hence the ‘positive reason’ for a trip to Houston. But they want the art sans artist.
I ought to just go on my own. Pose as a buyer. I should show up at their booth and get all excited about Dale O’Dell’s art. I should act like I’m going to buy. I should ask them, ‘is the artist present?’ and then get all bummed out and walk away when they say ‘no.’ That could be fun!
Or maybe I’ll call up an old friend in Houston and ask him to attend ---just to check out my gallery and make sure they’re behaving themselves.
I suppose if I were a Big Sports Star with a twenty million dollar a year contract, then a ‘morals clause’ would be appropriate. But this ain’t no multimillion dollar sports contract; in fact I paid them a fee just to look at my artworks, and I’ll pay a percentage back to them if anything sells. They really have no right to tell me how to act. They should trust that I won’t embarrass them or, more importantly, myself.
Oh well, like I wrote, I have been in this business for over thirty years, so I’ve seen a lot of stupid contracts; I won’t even get into the one that began, ‘…agrees to be your exclusive representative throughout the universe…’
How about I write into the contract that the gallery has to behave ‘properly’ just the same as me? What’s good for one is good for the other, right? No? Really? Why is that? Oh right, you wrote the contract.
How ‘bout you people just sell my artwork? And behave yourselves even if it’s not contractually mandated. Meanwhile I’ll be in my studio behaving myself.
I participated in the Houston Fine Arts Fair as a part of “New Emerging Artists” and the Art-Variant Gallery in Chicago. It didn’t work out for me & I won’t work with these folks again ---I’ll tell you more in my next blog!