It’s pretty thrilling when an item you’ve been on the lookout for years finally turns up. In this case, we just uncovered a batch of Seth Siegelaub’s original Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement (in poster format) from 1971.
Developed by curator, art dealer, and writer Seth Siegelaub in conjunction with attorney Robert Projansky, The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement was intended to empower artists by allowing them to continue to exercise control over future sales, reproductions, and loans of their work once it was out of their hands.. The contract specifically required that artists receive a 15% cut of future resales of their work and veto power over proposed exhibitions.
Originally produced in 1971, the freely-distributed fold-out document was designed by Cris Gianakos and underwritten by the School of Visual Arts. It was also made available in the April 1971 issues of Art News, Studio International, and Arts Canada. In 1972, the contract was edited and translated into French, German, Italian, and Dutch and has subsequently been reprinted many times.
In a lengthy but breezy and no-nonsense introduction to the contract, printed on one side of the poster, Siegelaub explains the mission of the project. He concludes:
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 which 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 question about artists’ rights in reference to their art, the artist is more right than anyone else.