Asking for a friend.
September 7, 2011 11:38 PM   Subscribe

My friend is an artist who lives in Vancouver BC. A big commercial fine art gallery in the US owes my friend a lot of money for art sold but has only paid about 5% of what's owed so far. Any recourse for a Canadian artist trying to get money owed from an American gallery?

My friend consigned several pieces of art with a large, very commercial US gallery roughly 2 years ago. They are on the eastern seaboard if that helps. At first they were upfront with my friend about sales and such, but over time communication became sporadic and communication attempts were rarely answered. They also became very circumspect about sales figures, until finally they came clean and admitted they had sold about 12 works. They are having some financial difficulties which they took a long time to admit to. They sent very little of the commission owed but continued to sell even after being asked not to. My friend finally got the rest of the unsold art out of there by signing with another American gallery but is still owed roughly 30 000$. Is there anything my friend can do about this?
PS, my friend is a single parent and doesn't have a lot of cash at hand so I'm thinking lawyers are out of the question here.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
Best answer: He needs an American lawyer to bring suit in American court.

Most such lawyers will talk to you initially for free, and there are ways that can be worked out where the lawyer doesn't require up front payment.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:11 AM on September 8, 2011

Best answer: A lawyer is pretty much mandatory at this point if she wants to recover the money (I'm assuming she's sent invoices with pay by dates via registered/certified mail). She can try to find a lawyer willing to work on commission, or at least have lawyer send a We Mean Business type letter first for a smaller fee.
posted by 6550 at 12:12 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: By the way, the gallery has committed fraud, which is a crime. He should also talk to the police in the locale where the gallery is located.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:12 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And for the time being, save all emails and voicemails. Document any phone conversations, including those in the past, with as much details as you can remember.
posted by barnone at 2:06 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

All good advice -- get a lawyer and file suit in US court. However, the gallery almost certainly has not committed fraud, nor has it likely committed any crime. The police are not going to be interested in this.
posted by The Bellman at 8:18 AM on September 8, 2011

Best answer: IANAL, but this is likely a breach of the consignment contract, rather than some type of fraud. As such it will be a civil matter, so ... lawyer.

Among other practicalities, the business may really be broke, in which case collecting will be a matter of getting a judgement and using further legal means (such as a collection agency) to pursue actual payment. Additionally, if the business is really on the brink they may declare bankruptcy, putting your friend in line for the scraps of remaining assets. This is a whole 'nother layer of complex law for which a specialized lawyer may be needed (I have some experience with bankruptcy law as a layman, but no idea how consignment is handled in the ranking of creditors, which favors those with collateral/security). Finally, your friend should know that at trial it will be possible to ask for a judgement including plaintiff's legal costs, although the vast majority of civil cases are settled prior to trial.

Your friend's real-world choices are not really "getting it all back for free" vs. "getting it all back and paying a lawyer", they're "getting nothing" vs. "getting a good chunk of it back, some of which goes to the lawyer".
posted by dhartung at 8:36 AM on September 8, 2011

Best answer: I'm happy to plug one of my favorite organizations: Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. They deal this kind of thing all the time. If they don't work internationally, they will probably be able to point your friend in the right direction.
posted by mmmcmmm at 10:07 AM on September 8, 2011

Yes, seconding VLA

MediateArt, a VLA program since 1998, offers artists and arts organizations three services in an objective, supportive forum at a nominal cost: Mediation (dispute resolution), contract negotiation, and negotiation counseling. Respectively, these services assist artists and arts organizations in resolving arts-related disputes, in forming mutually agreeable arrangements among collaborators, and in preparing for a negotiation.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:18 AM on September 9, 2011

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