Monday, May 31, 2021

Figurative Art Now: how fair are the T&C to artists?

Some of you may have wondered why I have not promoted the Figurative Art Now Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. I have my reasons for not highlighting this art competition - and these are listed below.

I like art competitions to be fair for everybody concerned. I've recently found myself staring at a very difficult situation - which has given rise to a number of concerns about implications for artists. I have raised these (offline) but I'm still not happy that the issues this competition raises for artists are well understood by all those who need to understand. 

I've left it until now so that those who want to enter can. As all my regular readers will know  my art competition mantra is ALWAYS read carefully all the terms and conditions....

I really didn't want to write what I'm about to say - but, on balance, I think it presents an important learning opportunity for all concerned. 

So I'm writing in that context - and with the hope that some of this can be resolved before the exhibition goes online....

After which I may well do a checklist about government law and regulations relating to  ecommerce and trading standards for ONLINE art competitions / open exhibitions for both organisers and artists!!

Bottom line - online exhibitions can be way more complex than exhibitions in a gallery!

Non-involvement of the FBA Societies

Ostensibly this online art competition 'Figurative Art Now' is about the 60th year of the Federation of British Artists BUT having queried this competition, I found that....

  • The exhibition was simply announced 
  • It was NOT discussed in advance with the Presidents of the Art Societies which make up the Federation of British Artists.
  • Which I just find really, really odd. The Societies are the FBA!! 
    • How can they not be involved if it supposedly relates to the 60th anniversary?  
    • Why aren't the Presidents involved with selection of artwork for the exhibition? 

Obviously life has been very difficult recently with all the disruption caused by the Pandemic - but even so, this just seems very odd to me.


    Prizes for artwork which selectors have never seen?

    Two of the prizes are very odd (a £5,000 prize and a week-long exhibition in one of the galleries) given that the artwork entered will NEVER EVER be seen in person by any of the Selection Panel.

    I'm just gobsmacked about this! Seriously? How does that work?

    I've been looking at online images of artwork and actual artwork in open exhibitions and art competitions for very many years and I'm certainly very familiar with the fact that 

    • There can be digital enhancement of artwork by artists for competitions! It's far from unusual.
    • Which is WHY all art competitions routinely have the proviso to eliminate any artwork which does not measure up (literally) to the digital image once received - even if it has been pre-selected.


    ONLINE ONLY Exhibition + MAJOR changes in who does what

    THIS IS AN ONLINE EXHIBITION ONLY i.e. no artwork will be hung at the Mall Galleries.   


    • Non-refundable submission fees are the same as the submission fees for the open exhibitions - once you discount the fact that the latter also provide for free entry to the REAL exhibition in the Galleries!
    • Commission is 35% plus VAT - slightly less for an organisation which is doing an awful  LOT LESS than it normally does for a hung exhibition i.e. 
      • No involvement of the Presidents / FBA Societies in the presentation / marketing of the exhibition or artwork 
      • no use of the gallery space at all 
      • no receipt / handling of artwork to be hung 
      • no storage of artwork
      • no hanging of artwork 
      • no manning of a live "on the wall" exhibition 
      • no return of artwork unsold 
      • no communication with buyers re collection / shipping
      • no financial transactions re shipping 
      • no arrangements for delivering art (including Customs documentation as appropriate)
      • (i.e. putting artwork online is now a routine and expected part of EVERY exhbition held by the FBA at the Mall galleries - NOT an added extra)

    Artists are next expected to do MUCH MORE than they usually do - BUT this difference from the normal open exhibitions of the FBA Societies is NOT highlighted in the summary on the competition page.

    No mention in the summary of the additional costs for artists
    (re finance / time / effort of packing and shipping art - potentially anywhere in the world!)

    What this means, for starters, is....

    Artists have to ORGANISE AND PAY FOR ALL PACKING AND POSTAGE TO BUYERS as stated in the Terms and Conditions TO ANY DESTINATION within 14 days of the sale being confirmed.


    4.1 All Works must be exhibition-ready as if they were to be exhibited and ready for sale. All work needs to be delivered or shipped to the buyer as advertised. 


    5.1 Artists will be responsible for the delivery of work to the buyer, including the cost of shipping.  All work should be labelled and attached to the works. 

    5.2. Work should be despatched within 14 days of confirmation of the sale 

    Thus, the artist is liable for the cost of sending the artwork anywhere in the world - in whichever country the buyer lives in - no matter what the cost!  

    The buyer does NOT have to pay. No matter what the size or weight of the artwork!!! 

    Presumably, the artist pays for that out of the balance left from their receipt from the sale - after deduction of commission and VAT - should they have got this before they need to pay for the despatch.... 

    (The way the financial transactions work re timing is extremely unclear. Plus artists usually never ever send artwork sold online without first receiving the full remittance for the sale!)

    I'm left wondering how many of those who entered spotted this particular aspect in the terms and conditions.  Artists do not normally price to include delivery costs.

    Being part of this Online Exhibition means the artist is now faced with the following for ALL INTERNATIONAL SALES - which are quite common for Online Exhibitions - because buyers are NOT limited to the UK.

    • Getting an EORI number if they don't already have one
    • Knowing the international tariff code for their artwork for any international sales and Customs
    • Knowing about and dealing with all the documentation required - and visible - to avoid the artwork package getting stuck in Customs
    • sourcing and finding a reliable courier for international sales
    • arranging insurance during transport - anywhere in the world
    • knowing which countries charge additional duty at their end on artwork - which must be paid before artwork is released from Customs
      • any support or guidance from the Mall Galleries in relation to all highly relevant regulations for online sales (ecommerce / Trading standards / Customs etc)
      • any Mall Galleries pre-organised courier contract for rates / T&C for all despatched (i.e. collect from artist / pack and despatch with all necessary documentation) 

    In other words, it's the Art Gallery version of making you check out your own shopping at the supermarket, pack it and take it home!

    There is a reason why artists' visits to my page International Art Shipping: How to ship / export art to other countries rocketed after 1st January 2021 when the UK exited the EU for real - and that's because very many artists have absolutely no idea how to export artwork internationally. 

    I've also heard numerous non-stop horror stories about international shipping ever since January from those who had no such guidance!  

    (P.S. Who can tell me which EU country now charges 20% duty on all artwork imports from the UK?)


    Why I'm not recommending artists enter this art competition


    I'm NOT saying you shouldn't enter. I'm just choosing not to recommend entry.

    I've been pondering what to do about this art competition for some time - in terms of highlighting some very important "need to know" issues. 

    Given the existing FAN T&C I would NOT recommend any artist enter this exhibition UNLESS they were 100% comfortable with ALL the T&C - which they've read in full; were experienced in direct sales and were confident shippers/exporters because:

    • it shifts a lot of the work organisers normally do on to the artist;
    • leaves a lot of artists exposed and vulnerable to a number of technical issues of which they may be either unaware of or not well-informed about; and
    • which the T&C do NOT cover in an explicit way.


    • The shipping arrangements which place responsibility for cost for shipping PLUS doing all the paperwork (including potentially all relevant Customs / international shipping documentation/presentation) on the artist and not the buyer i.e. 
      • A completely open-ended commitment - calls into question how can the shipping condition be fair to artists?
      • An absolute minefield of customs and taxation paperwork (and payments of additional duty) in relation to some countries 
      • Particularly relevant and an issue for all those who have never shipped artwork overseas before - or even shipped artwork to buyers direct in the UK! 
      • It's absolutely impossible to price an artwork to cover shipping to any destination - which is why it's normally a buyer's cost for all but the smallest/lightest of artworks.
    • The absence of explicit and very necessary information up front - which would enable an informed decision about whether to enter 
      • Who is the primary party in the contract of sale (who bears liability if anything goes wrong) - the art gallery or the artist? It's unclear. If it's the artist then they determine the conditions of sale....
      • If something goes wrong, who is liable? Have the two paragraphs 9.1 and 9.2 relating to legal liability been cleared for sense and accuracy with legal advisers first?
      • what happens if the artist or buyer lives in the Northern Ireland? (and no, I don't have the answer to that one at the moment - I'm still working it out - but the border for goods in the Irish Sea is VERY relevant)
    • Cancellations
      • What happens if a buyer cancels an order after the artist has paid for a shipment? Who picks up the cost of that? It's unclear.
      • There are mandatory UK regulations re being clear and transparent re online sales and cancellation of orders and refunds - not mentioned anywhere in the T&C for the artist's information and making an informed choice about whether to enter.
    • Money-laundering regulations and the requirement for registration for each and every art gallery and artist (i.e. art market participants) by June 10th - where the value of the artwork exceeds £10k! I will be writing more on this topic shortly!


    What happens next....?

    For me, it's absolutely essential that artists are treated fairly in relation to all economic transactions at all times.
    I think what's happened here with this competition is that an art gallery / organisers used to organising exhibitions one way are now trying another way - and has maybe not been aware of and/or thought through all the angles and necessary information from EVERY perspective - including that of the artists - to arrive at a "feels fair" resolution.

    I think there are two possible ways out of the shipping situation:
    • Either buyers and the despatch of artwork are limited to the UK. This way
      • the artist still has to pack and ship (as stated in the T&C)
      • but does NOT have to deal with international sales / Customs and all the associated costs in terms of time and effort as well as financial costs.
    • Or the Mall Galleries organises a UK wide courier contract for all UK artists (given a contract like ths can attract much better shipping rates than any individual artist can) - which can 
      • handle ALL UK and international deliveries to pick up, pack and deliver with all necessary Customs documentation and insurance for the artwork as required - and
      • remits the balance of the sale price to the artist once the courier has been paid. That's assuming there's any left.....
    That just leaves all the other areas where contractual and regulalatory matters are, in my opinion, not addressed in full and remain extremely unclear.

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