Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading

September 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Alistair in art | discussion - (4 Comments)

If you’re paying a (so-called) art gallery to show your work, or you’re paying by the metre for your wall space, then you’re not in a professional artist-gallerist relationship and you’re not in the art world; you are a customer of a service industry, and customers in the UK (and of course elsewhere) have clearly defined and legally enforceable rights. One of the sock puppets in this notorious thread about Debut Contemporary mockingly taunted that if anybody really thought pay-to-play vanity galleries were doing anything wrong, or that anybody could do anything about their conduct, then we should go to the Office of Fair Trading. Having recently gone through the OFT’s guidance on the subject, I can wholeheartedly concur with our sock puppet friend because since the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 came into force, companies that engage in unfair or deceptive business practices can be forced to comply with reasonable business ethics, and face civil or criminal prosecution if they don’t.

Download and read the entire document at the link– it’s worth it just for your general information when dealing with any company or service. But a number of practices mentioned definitely reminded me of things I’ve seen in mailouts, “opportunities” (sic) to win art prizes, and on the shoddy websites belonging to the vanity galleries that seem to be popping up almost every month, like poisonous mushrooms. I’m sure many of you have seen this nonsense, too. Let’s play vanity gallery bingo. Does the great unsolicited offer to show your work (for a small fee…) contain any of these?

NOTE: All following information except my notes are extracted verbatim from the OFT’s guidance document, intended as pointers and for general information only. None of this is a substitute for familiarising yourself with the actual document and the real legislation first hand. Don’t ever rely on a blog or on something you might have read somewhere at some point if you’re going to court; take proper, professional legal advice if you think you need it.

Commercial practices which are considered unfair in all circumstances and which are prohibited.

(7) Falsely stating that a product will only be available for a very limited time, or that it will only be available on particular terms for a very limited time, in order to elicit an immediate decision and deprive consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice.

(19) Claiming in a commercial practice to offer a competition or prize promotion without awarding the prizes described or a reasonable equivalent.

(20) Describing a product as ‘gratis’, ‘free’, ‘without charge’ or similar if the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the commercial practice and collecting or paying for delivery of the item. (Example) A trader advertises a ‘free’ gift. He then tells consumers that in order to receive their ‘free’ gift they need to pay an extra fee. This would breach the CPRs (consumer protection regulations).

NOTE: My specific vanity gallery example, one based on a recent promotional email that was sent to me, would be a “free showcase” or “free mailout” that you can only get by paying a membership, subscription or service fee. This clearly and unequivocally violates subsection 20. (more…)

Feel the Fear

September 12th, 2012 | Posted by admin in art | discussion - (1 Comments)

Liz Hill at Arts Professional hits the nail right on the head:

“The subsidised arts sector lives in fear of the hands that feed it. For artists or funded arts organisations to speak up against bad practice, corruption, favouritism, back-handers, rule-breaking, nepotism, back-room deals, intimidation or bullying is perceived as tantamount to signing their own death warrants. Their professional lives are in the hands of those who hold the purse strings, and ‘keeping your head down’ is known to be the name of the game.”

Read the rest at

RFOs, say goodbye to your unpaid interns

September 12th, 2012 | Posted by admin in art - (Comments Off)

The Arts Council gets a lot of flak– sometimes justifiably– but we should also remember that they have been and can still be a powerful force for good on the English arts scene. A good example of this is their announcement of a scheme to support paid, fair and non-exploitative art internships. They’re even talking openly about many big arts organisations not adhering to basic employment law and ethics, and the unpaid work culture leading to a situation where  increasingly it’s only the children of affluent parents who stand a long term chance of gaining and keeping proper paid employment… having subsidised their own employers for months or years previously.

Do our eyes deceive us, or is (ACE Executive Director) Andrea Stark even issuing a pretty blunt and long overdue warning to ACE-funded offenders here?

“I very much hope that those organisations that either receive funds from us or want to work with the arts council, will understand what we’re about and what we think is the right and fair and proper thing to do. And we really hope that organisations stay on the right side of the law.”

Note that some reports (including, to some extent, the link) are emphasising the need for such a scheme but slightly burying the fact that the Creative Employment Programme hasn’t started yet. It’s being put out to tender, and is unlikely to start until 2013.

Disrupting the gallery

September 5th, 2012 | Posted by Alistair in art - (Comments Off)

 A very interesting (and funny) update from Charlie Gates, a former client of Debut Contemporary who previously chipped in on the DC post that went viral possibly because of, rather than in spite of, various sock puppets, stooges and fellow travellers of theirs trying to shut down the debate and blacken our names behind our backs. Unusually for a story that involves art world rip offs, camping out at reception with a stonewalling “gallery maid” (LOL), and a decomposing fox in a suitcase, there’s even a (sort of) happy ending. Well done, Charlie.

DC and their cronies seem to love throwing the word “slander” about, even though they apparently don’t know what it means. This was also brought up on our site, so I’m really glad that Gates patiently schooled them on what slander actually is. In written form it’s libel, anyway. In any case, as Gates points out, in the general world of grown up common sense and by law in most countries (including the laws of the British Isles), it is generally not considered slander or libel to express a sincerely held opinion based upon one’s own experiences, knowledge, or understanding. It’s only slander or libel when one knowingly and maliciously spreads falsehoods. Like, you know, sending sneaky emails to other people that an artist works with. Or publicly calling an artist a liar when they have proof of what they’re saying.

Knowingly spreading the truth is… a lot of things. Honourable. Just. Admirable. Certainly not a crime, not slander,  not “spreading rumours” (another of DC’s code words for fair criticism or dissent), and certainly not something that anybody has a right to stifle.

New school, hopefully different from the old school

August 29th, 2012 | Posted by Alistair in art | art education - (Comments Off)

A survey of recently founded artist-run art academies and education programmes, with contributions from: The Silent University, The School of Global Art, The External Program, MASS Alexandria, SOMA and Islington Mill Art Academy.”

Good article in F***** magazine, which will be of particular interest to those people who’ve been asking us about alternatives to the proliferation of shameless scammers and Thatcherite psychopaths who like to pick artists’ pockets in the guise of supposedly developing their careers.

The ephemeral museum

July 23rd, 2012 | Posted by admin in art | discussion | exhibition | gallery | press - (Comments Off)

Ostensibly a review of the new Tate Modern Tanks for exhibiting live and time-based art, Laura Cumming also makes some interesting observations about some of the implications and questions that arise from it. Of course we’ve covered this subject previously in posts on this site and at our public Collecting the Uncollectable discussion last year.

The open Open

July 18th, 2012 | Posted by Alistair in art | exhibition - (2 Comments)

We’ve talked a lot here on the site and in the real world with artists and arts professionals about competitions, pay-to-play “opportunities” and so on. Now myself and our David have agreed to be selectors for the Zeitgeist Open 2012 in the hope of showing there’s a way to run these things fairly, ethically, without ripping anybody off or profiteering, and keeping artists where they should be in the arts– at the centre. In brief (from the ZAP site):

  1. There will be no pre-selection, all works will be seen by all the judges
  2. The work received will remain anonymous throughout the judging process
  3. Our judges are artists, not art oligarchs or celebrities
  4. ZAP values all the artists we work with and continues to build relationships with them during and after shows
  5. At least 10 artists from The Zeitgeist Open will be selected for our next ZAP group exhibition: Discernible in Spring 2013
  6. The ZAP philiosophy is about: Creating opportunities for ambitious artists, creating new networks and bringing new audiences – curators, gallerists, collectors, the general public – to artists
  7. Submission fees have been kept to an absolute minimum – £15 or £12 for ZAP / DIY Educate Members – to make it accessible as possible.

But what’s really worth checking out, I think– even if you don’t intend to enter– is the statements and application materials you can download from the same page I just linked to (or below). David and I have consulted on and contributed to these documents, and I think they do a great job of doing what every fair, symmetrical transaction between commissioner/gallery/selector and artist should be: laying out what everyone on both sides has the right to expect, to get or not get. The selectors will be getting a small fee and travel expenses for a day of work on selecting the submissions. Instead of making ourselves scarce like your traditional gatekeepers, we’ll also be attending the opening of the exhibition in the autumn so you can talk to us directly about what we selected, what we didn’t, and why.

Art competitions and open submission calls can be genuine opportunities that help artists. They don’t have to be dodgy.


“Imagine what you could do for yourself, or with your friends”

June 28th, 2012 | Posted by admin in art | blog - (Comments Off)

A short blog post by Gemma Germains (“Tips for applying to design agencies from the lady who reads (or bins) your emails”) at design agency Mercy. She offers good advice to anybody trying to get a foot in the door of any highly competitive creative field. Some of them are- or should be- obvious, but a lot of people still flout this basic common sense. People have sent things to us (either as Market Project or at places we’ve all worked at) and done all the things Germains advises against. They’ve not bothered to find out our names or whether they could ever conceivably work with us, they’ve wasted their opportunity, made themselves seem boring and unimaginative, and so on.

What’s really good, though, is Germain’s summary of the argument against free labour:

“By offering to come in for nothing you are devaluing your talent, you’re perpetuating a free labour work culture and you’re making it far too easy for employers to take the mick. If there was no free labour willing to do the entry level (and in some cases, quite skilled jobs) then business owners would have to determine whether or not their current business models were actually sustainable.

If you do find yourself working for free, ask yourself: if you have the conviction to work FOR NOTHING for someone else, imagine what you could do for yourself, or with your friends?”

Whether arts and media business models are sustainable and viable without subsidy (either from grants or from the very people who work in those industries), and because the answer is usually that they’re not at all financially or practically sustainable and viable: these issues crop up with horrible regularity here at Market project. Read the rest of Gemma Germain’s advice here:

Actual new models as opposed to just saying it’s a new model…

June 26th, 2012 | Posted by admin in art | press - (Comments Off)


Of course actions speak louder than words (especially when we consider the furore here over companies like Debut Contemporary and the way artists who’ve worked with them are telling us they’ve been treated when they’re the ones paying) so we’ll wait to see what kinds of grants are made, to whom and what becomes of the projects supported… but a cautious welcome is due to at least the ideas and the ethos behind The Creator’s’ Trust. From a Guardian article posted today:

“People from the creative industries put money into a central pot. Every month, funds from this pot are distributed to creators in the UK and in the developing world – they set aside a little over 10% of the pot for running costs. They don’t exploit people or control their creative output. They merely provide the means to help them develop and progress. All they ask is that if a Creators’ Trust funded project results in financial profit, the beneficiaries put some money back in the pot to give someone else a chance… There is an application procedure but you can’t apply on behalf of yourself. The Creators’ Trust is about making a name for someone else, so applications are more like recommendations from someone who is passionate about an emerging talent. Recipients of funding must be pursuing, training or professionally involved in the arts, media or fashion industries.”

The idea of peer or colleague recommendation instead of people applying on their own behalf is a particularly interesting one. Although in practice it may be open to abuse, nepotism and “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, in theory it could also be a very good way to encourage peer support and building communities of professional equals that bypass most of the usual decision makers. (more…)

Thanks to one of our ever-growing digital scrapheap of tip offs about horrifying art world practices- seriously, we are collating all of these and someday we’re going to publish the ultimate directory of art world wrong ‘uns- I am not at all proud and indeed somewhat disgusted to introduce the SUPER-CONNECTED, GLOSSY-MAGAZINE-HAUNTING, RELENTLESSLY SELF-PUBLICISING, CAPS LOCK-LOVING SAMIR CERIC AND ZOE KNIGHT, AND THEIR DEBUT CONTEMPORARY:

I know we should play the ball and not the player, hate the sin and love the sinner, hate the game and not the playa, etc… but seriously, what the hell? This picture- and the fact that it’s one of the first things you see on their site, a site that’s supposed to be about developing the careers of artists, and the fact there’s pages and pages of other images of them and their press clippings here- certainly tells me a lot about them.

But instead of speculating about the creative possibilities of shop dummy wigs, plastic surgery, Photoshop and still choosing all your own clothes even though you’re red/green colourblind, or even asking “Debut Contemporary what?“, let’s hear from the “TOP TASTEMAKERS” themselves. Note that the blaring, almost unreadable ALL CAPS FORMAT, clumsy English and grammatical errors are in the original text:


I wonder which one of them is the wolf, and which is the badger?