Writing Art History Since 2002

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Artright is a new online professional resource for the visual arts community due to launch in February 2011. Art South Africa spoke with the project’s co-founders, Brendan Copestake and Joseph Gaylard.

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2010 Michaelis Prize winner Jared Ginsburg’s recreation of his studio, part of 2010 Michaelis Graduate Exhibition

Artright describes itself as “a project established to
promote professional practice in the South African visual arts community”. What
do you mean by professional practice?

Joseph Gaylard: Professional practice is concerned with a proper awareness
and application of knowledge of the legal and business dimensions of one’s
practice as a visual artist, gallerist or whatever other kind of visual arts
professional. Most informally trained artists and graduates that emerge
from art school have little grasp of these issues, particularly in relation to
the legal frameworks that surround their work as an artist, and have a pretty
nebulous and starry-eyed idea about how to pursue a viable career in the

There is also a wider sense of professional practice, which I would hope the project may make some modest contribution to as it evolves — the sense of the visual arts as a professional activity which is bound by certain codes and standards which guide how people conduct their relationships with one another. In many other vocations and industries such codes and
practices are articulated and formalised in great detail, and linked to
affiliation to a professional body.

In the visual arts locally this kind of consensus around professional conduct does not exist, and people are loath to affiliate to anything beyond their immediate networks of influence and comfort. I think we need to work towards a point where as a community we take these matters more seriously through a code of conduct (or similar) that artists, galleries and other professional actors in the industry generate on the one hand and subscribe to on the other.

It is obviously not something that can be imposed, and there is a great wall of passive resistance that would need to be addressed in pursuing such an endeavour. I think Artright can play a useful role in starting a conversation around these issues through the provision of useful knowledge on the one hand, and a platform for discussion on the other.

Brendan Copestake: The website deals with two main issues: professional practice and business acumen. Professional practice deals with how a person in the arts should interact with the community. All industries have standards and codes of behaviour in order for them to work smoothly.

For instance, there is a standard layout and content for writing a CV or an artist
statement, or how to approach a gallery for an exhibition and then what is
expected from the artist and what is expected from the gallery. By
standardising these communication channels it makes relationships between
members of the industry much easier. Basically, you help ensure that you get
what you ask for.

Business acumen deals with the business side of the industry. If you break it down into business terms, an artist is a person making a product (an artwork) and taking their product to a shop (a gallery).
The gallery will try to sell the work. The gallery will quite often perform PR
and advertising for the artist. An artist’s value quite often remains in the
name of the artist and hence the artist will need to manage and protect their
name (or brand), which lies in the image of the work they create.

Business acumen tries to deal with these issues, as well as issues like pension planning, describing what a will is and how to assign
your copyright to someone in your will. Topics also include managing your finances and accounts by using accounting tools as well as knowing how to
choose the correct bank account for your needs, much like a successful business

Quite often you will see that a successful artist, much like a successful business will have a good understanding of all of these very
important business functions, or they will have someone that will manage these
functions on their behalf. As the visual arts industry grows, we should start to see more and more art agents representing artists, much like you have
sports agents. These agents typically perform the professional practice and
business acumen role on behalf of the artist, giving the artist more time to do
what they do best.

What was the basic seed for the idea of the website?

BC: For the past five or so years I have
been involved in the project management and administration of exhibitions and
public art installations in Johannesburg. During this time, I found that there
were very few contracts that could be used that were specific to the visual

During the Gerhard Marx/BMW copyright lawsuit I also
heard many of my artist friends tell stories about how their artworks had been either
lost or damaged, and that they had no recourse to action as they had no
paperwork to prove loss or damage. I decided to develop a website which South African artists could access contractual documents.

The purpose of the site is to provide the industry with contracts
so that relationships can be protected before they sour, usually as a result of
a simple miscommunication. Basically, the goal is to help manage people’s
expectations of what their business relationship is. This is simply done by
reducing the relationship into a very simple document.

We have taken most of the law jargon out of the contracts
so that it is really simple to understand and use. In most cases, we have even
simplified the contract to include check boxes. For example, in an artist gallery agreement there are check boxes to mark if the gallery or artist has to pay for
insurance, snacks at the opening, an advert in a magazine or promotional

With VANSA’s involvement, the website’s scope grew significantly and we are now finding that there is a large community of people
that are supporting the idea, and are also desperate to have access to this
kind of professional practice/business acumen content. With funding, we are
hoping to develop enough content that we can publish a textbook for use at
tertiary education levels. Most fine art graduates do not go on to become practicing artists but rather get involved in administrative or technical roles within the
arts for which they are not adequately prepared. Artright tries to bridge that

JG: VANSA’s first engagement with this whole area was through the Artists Manual produced in partnership with the Africa Centre. We felt that this material — it provides a very basic
introduction to a variety of professional practice issues — could be both
widened and deepened in scope through an online resource that would be
developed through the contributions and direct experience of people working in
the sector, and engagement with specialists in law, finance, marketing and so
on. We became aware of Brendan and WITS’ interest in developing something
similar and felt that it would make sense to team up rather than duplicate.

Is the website an original model or did you draw on existing online resources elsewhere?

BC: Alot of inspiration was
drawn from a UK based website called Artquest. We found
that the amount of content on that website to be too daunting. There is so much
of it, you just do not know where to start and so people tend to give up on it
after a short time. With Artright we would like to keep the content specific and
functional to professional practice and business acumen. This will give the
user a basic idea of the subject. By doing this, the site will hopefully not
become too overburdened with information.

Your strategic partners are VANSA and WITS. What do they contribute to the project?

JG: VANSA is involved as the managing partner. Our role involves 1) securing partners for the project and administering modest funding to support the development of the project, 2) contributing
(and developing) content for the site, 3) providing oversight around the
overall development of the project, and 4) developing complementary resources
and services. For example, further printed materials, workshops and a legal
helpdesk are planned for 2011.

WITS interest is in building a professional resource that
staff and students can draw on in the context of their degree programmes, and
for the tertiary art school system more generally. WITS has contributed
some initial finance for the project and plays an overview and support role.
From left: Linda Stuppart, Stuart Bird and Belinda Blignaut, preparing for Vex and Siolence, YOUNGBLACKMAN, December 9, 2010
Scenario A: I am a recent art school graduate. I have a body of work I would
like to exhibit somewhere, hopefully at the Goodman Gallery or Michael
Stevenson. What can I learn from your website?

JG: The first thing would be to encourage a sober assessment as to whether your work and practice actually belongs in this
(fairly rarefied) segment of the visual arts market. In the case of the two
galleries mentioned, they would generally find you before you find them.

would want to provide guidance as to how to maximise exposure of one’s practice
through, particularly, independent and self-initiated platforms — the more
visible one’s work is through these channels, the greater the likelihood of
attracting the interest of such galleries. In parallel, the site will also include advice on how to go about the complex business of networking, engaging with galleries and
presenting yourself and your work in a professional way (CV’s, artist
statements, portfolios, websites, etc).

BC: The website can help you in two different ways. Under the Art Handbook section, yet to be published, you will
find information useful to you as an emerging or even an established
artist. Its basically a “How to” section on the following: 1) how to
approach a gallery, 2) how to write a CV, 3) how to prepare an artist
statement, 4) how to market yourself, 5) how to find and prepare a studio,
and 6) how to pack and prepare your artwork for transport.

Another important issue that we deal with is art insurance
and the reasons why collectors should insure art. Art is
a specialised industry. The site explains the difference between normal household insurance, which can be used to insure art and, art insurance,
which is far more affordable and tailored to the needs of an artist or gallery.

The second way the website can help is by teaching you how to use the legal agreements under the art business section. The site
provides the user with a basic understanding of how legal agreements are used
and what to do if there is a disagreement. Quite often people don’t know what their rights are in a business relationship.

By reading the agreements the user will gain a much better insight into these rights. Even if they do not want to use the agreement, the text will at least bring to their attention what they should discuss
with the gallery before they even walk in. Likewise, for a new emerging
gallery, they are welcome to use the contracts or the content to develop
secure relationships with their artists and art buyers.

All the content on the site is downloadable and free of charge for anyone to use. The aim is to promote professional practice and business acumen in the industry to help it grow and develop. Users are welcome to take the content and put their own gallery logo on the contracts, as long as they attribute Artright
for the development of those documents.

Scenario B: I am a mid-career artist whose relationship with a well-known gallery has soured. The gallerist holds a lot of my work but is refusing to answer any calls. What do I do?

JG: I think the Artright contribution to this kind of issue is on two fronts. Firstly, to provide clear and easily understandable opinion on the different legal issues and considerations that come into play
around such an instance, so that one enters into a legal process with a
realistic sense of the prospects for success on the one hand and the costs
involved on the other.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Artright contribution is perhaps more of a prophylactic measure, encouraging people to reduce to writing, whether in an email or a formal signed contract, what the
precise terms of engagement between artist and gallerist are, and provide
concrete examples and templates for how this can be done, for the benefit of
both parties. In the absence of such an agreement, these kinds of issues
become very painful and costly to pursue through the courts if the only agreement
is a verbal one, made over a few drinks.

BC: Artright’s agreements have been developed in such a way that if there was a disagreement between an artist and gallery,
the agreement would dictate the way in which to resolve the issue in three

The first step is negotiation. In this case the artist would write a letter to the gallery stating the problem. If the issue is not
resolved within 14 days, either through email, letter, by telephone or face-to-face
meeting, the dispute is escalated to the second and third step, being mediation
and arbitration.

Both are more formal ways of settling an argument. A
neutral third person would be invited to listen to both parties description of
events and then to decide on an outcome, much like a judge in court would. Arbitration is the most formal, as you would ask a suitably qualified person from the industry to advise on the issue at hand. In this case the Arbitration Council of South Africa appoints the person.

Artright has opted for the use of negotiation, mediation and arbitration over the use of courts,
as they are slow and cumbersome, whereas mediation and arbitration can be quite
quick. The point is to settle the dispute quickly so that business can continue
as normal. If there were not contract in place between the gallery and the artist, we would still advise on the same resolution, which would be to negotiate, mediate and then arbitrate.

One thing to keep in mind is that it is standard industry practice that ownership of an artwork only transfers from the artist to the art buyer on full payment of the work. A gallery is merely an agent for the sale of the artwork: they may
physically posses the work, but they do not own it.

Scenario C: I have a painting by artist X. Is it valuable? Who do I speak to so I can get it valued?

JG: We are developing some basic content around art as an investment, as well as a listing of specialists in this area.
This is probably something that could or should be developed as a separate
resource by others.BC: The best would be to seek advice from a professional gallery
or auction house that is familiar with the artists work. VANSA is busy
assimilating a “white pages of the industry” which should be
available soon. The gallery, auction house or agent can issue you with a
valuation certificate as well as a certificate of authenticity. These documents
can be found and downloaded free of charge.

Bear in mind that you should get two or three appraisals from different institutions to get a realistic value of an artwork. Some
institutions/galleries will play the role of both a gallery and an agent — they
will have their own self-interest at heart and may over inflate the price of
the work. Quite often you will need a valuation certificate and condition report
if you would like to insure an artwork.

Scenario D: I visited the Joburg Art Fair. I am an artist but I don’t have a gallery showing on the fair. How do I get my work onto the
Joburg Art Fair?

JG: I think the answer is pretty much
the same as the response to scenario A.BC: Artright’s scope does not really deal with this topic,
although you can seek advice on our forum. The
forum is there for anyone to ask and answer questions that relates to the
visual arts industry. Questions vary from where to find studio spaces to legal
issue such as in scenario B.

Is the forum moderated and will discussions be themed?

JG: Yes, by Brendan. There is a system
of tagging entries that enables linkage between different topics and discussion

A website is a static and immaterial thing. What
promotional plans do you have to activate the website and make it a destination

JG: We are planning to formally launch the
Artright website, together with the new VANSA website, in early February 2011. We will be promoting the website through leaflets to tertiary institutions, art museums and galleries, as well as through VANSA’s bi-monthly mail-outs.


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