The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer And Sale Agreement (1971)

Seth Siegelaub

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Introduction to the Agreement made by Seth Siegelaub in Leonardo, vol. 6, 1973.

1. The Agreement

The three-page Agreement on the following pages has been drafted by Bob Projansky, a New York lawyer, after my extensive discussions and correspondence with over 500 artists, dealers, collectors, museum people, critics and others involved in the day-to-day workings of the international art world.

The Agreement has been designed to remedy some generally acknowledged inequities in the art world, particularly artists’ lack of control over the use of their work and participation in its economics after they no longer own it.

The Agreement form has been written with special awareness of the current ordinary practices and economic realities of the art world particularly its private, cash and informal nature, with careful regard for the interests and motives of all concerned.

It is expected to be the standard form for all transfer and sale of all contemporary art and has been made as fair, simple and useful as possible. It can be used either as presented here or slightly altered to fit your specific situation. If you have questions as regards any part of the agreement, you should consult your attorney.

2. Enforcement

First, let us put this question in perspective: most people will honor the Agreementbecause most people honor agreements. Those few people who will try to cheat you are likely to be the same kinds who will give you a hard time about signing theAgreement in the first place. Later owners will be more likely to try to cheat you than the first owner, with whom you or your dealer have had some face-to-face contact but there are strong reasons why both first and future owners should fulfill the contract’s terms.

What happens if owner No. 2 sells your work to owner No. 3 and does not send you the transfer form? (He is not sending you the money, either.) Nothing happens. (You do not know about it yet.)

Sooner or later you do find out about it because it takes a lot of effort to conceal such sales and the ‘grapevine’ will get the news to you (or your dealer) anyway. To conceal the sale, owner No. 3 has to conceal the work and he is not going to hide a good and valuable work just to save a little money. And if he ever wants to sell it, repair it, appraise it or authenticate it, he MUST come to you (or your dealer). When you do find out about such a transaction-and you will-you sue owner No. 2, who will owe you 15% of the increase based on the price to owner No. 3 or on the value at the time you find out about it, which may be higher. Clearly, a seller (in this case No. 2) would be extremely foolish to take this chance, to risk having to pay a lot of money, just to save a little money.

As to falsifying values reported to the artist, there will be as much pressure from the new owner to put a falsely high value as from the old owner to put in a low value. There are real difficulties inherent in getting two people to lie in unison, especially if it only benefits one of them-the seller. In 95% of the cases the amount of money to be paid to the artist will not be enough to compel the collectors to lie to you.

You will note that in the event you have to sue to enforce any of your rights under the Agreement, article 19 gives you the right to recover reasonable attorney’s fees in addition to whatever else you may be entitled to.

3. Summation

We realize that this Agreement is essentially unprecedented in the art world and that it just may cause a little rumbling and trembling; on the other hand, the ills it remedies are universally acknowledged to exist and no other practical way has ever been devised to cure them.

Whether or not, you, the artist, use it, is of course up to you; what we have given you is a legal tool that you can use yourself to establish ongoing rights when you transfer your work. This is a substitute for what has existed before-nothing.

We have done this for no recompense, for just the pleasure and challenge of the problem, feeling that should there ever be a questions about artists’ rights in reference to their art, the artist is more right than anyone else.

-Seth Siegelaub, 1973.

The Agreements and the corresponding statement appear courtesy of The Siegelaub Collection & Archives at the Stichting Egress Foundation, Amsterdam.

Seth Siegelaub (b. 1941 – 2003) was an American curator, art dealer, and author. Through his gallery, Seth Siegelaub Contemporary Art, and his later curatorial practice, Siegelaub introduced the art world to both a wide array of innovative conceptual artists as well as to radically new ways of exhibiting and distributing art. Following his early work in the arts, Siegelaub went on to work as a political researcher and a collector and bibliographer of textiles.

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