New York state has one of the oldest law relating to artist-gallery relationships. The law dates back to the late 1970s, and was passed in response to several major galleries going bankrupt and artists losing their work, as well as high-profile improprieties by galleries.
The law applies to works of art or crafts owned by the artist and delivered for exhibition and/or sale on fee or commission to an art merchant.
The merchant is deemed to be an agent of the artist by statute, and the work is considered trust property, held by the merchant for the benefit of the artist. Proceeds from any sale of the work are considered trust funds in the hands of the merchant for the benefit of the artist.
Even if the merchant purchases the work for its own books, it remains trust property until the artist is paid in full for the work. If the work is subsequently resold, the proceeds are considered trust funds, held for the benefit of the artist.
The only provision above the artist may waive is that proceeds from sale are considered trust funds, and only if the waiver is clear, conspicuous, in writing, and appraises the artist that they ware waiving rights. That waiver is only valid with respect to proceeds above $2,500 in any twelve-month period.
If anyone is injured by violation of the New York state law, they may bring suit to stop the offending behavior, for monetary damages, or both. The court may award attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses to a prevailing plaintiff.