I know I promised a few gallery-centric posts, but this question was actually brought up at one of my gallery clients the other day. They started working with a new artist and the artist’s other gallery wasn’t prepared to share the artist’s archive with them. They were in a bind because this artist never kept his own archive. So this incident prompted the following post.
Why should artists keep their own archives if their gallery is doing it for them? It’s like saying keep your own bank account just in case you get divorced. I know, it sounds very dooms-day to say prepare for the worst. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain your own archive of your work not because you may eventually sever ties with your gallery but because it’s the responsible thing to do. Think about it, it’s YOUR archive. It’s the living record of your work.
Galleries pay a lot of money to maintain an archive. They purchase all the catalogues that your work has been reproduced in, solo and group exhibitions. They purchase all magazine ads, articles and reviews. They employee someone called an archivist that gets paid anywhere from $30,000 - $50,000 to maintain the gallery artists’ archive. And the big ticket item: they pay for the photography of the work.
NOW here is the question: if for some reason you start working with another gallery, be it a union that the initial gallery approves of or not, are they obligated to share that archive with another gallery? Some galleries do and some don’t. But the answer is that they technically don’t have to share the archive, even with you, the artist.
You own the copyright of the work BUT they paid for the photography. So if you leave a gallery and go work with another gallery, you don’t get to take your archive with you for free. The gallery paid for it, the gallery owns those photographs, those catalogues, those magazines. I have seen instances where the artist or their new gallery can purchase the archive for a fee.
So you are freaking out, and I say HOLD ON. Don’t freak out yet. I’m not saying you have to get your work photographed at your expense on top of what the gallery is already doing. But what I am saying is that while the gallery is footing the bill, you must ASK for a copy of the high resolution jpg if the work is photographed. And here is the catch, you have to stay on top of your gallery to do that. The archivist is one of the busiest people at the gallery, and it will not be on the top of his or her mind to constantly remember after every photo shoot to send you a hi-res copy or to send you a copy of a magazine article. This is something that you must do and continue to do throughout your relationship with the gallery. Then you will have your archive, ready in the wing, in case you switch galleries or start working with a new gallery. You can let a lot of things slip through the cracks, but this one I would make a top priority.
And please look back at my previous blog about consignments. One of the stipulations in a consignment should be that you receive high-resolution images from anyone who consigns the work from you.
And don’t forget installation shots. Think catalogue raisonne.