Grey Room

Contractual Practices

Lauren van Haaften-Schick

Seth Siegelaub and Robert Projansky, The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, 1971. Front.


Contracts capture an exchange between two or more parties of one thing for another, enforceable by law. To be legally valid, there must be offer and acceptance, both parties must consent and have not signed under duress, and no terms can be illegal, among other requirements. Yet readers will envision many situations where these metrics come into question. Whether the exchange was fair can be open for interpretation. Signatories might not fully grasp terms to which they have agreed. Power and resources frequently overdetermine outcomes. Contracts have historically been overlooked by art historians. Agreement terms are typically confidential, leading them to be omitted from archives while buttressing the art market’s opacity. Yet some form of agreement—written, oral, or implied—is behind every art transaction, fabrication process, studio assistant arrangement, and more.