Q & A Fridays: Commissions

What is a commissioned sculpture and how does the process work? 

People are most familiar with art that hangs in galleries. The artists creates the work, brings it to the gallery, the gallery promotes it, and the art is sold in the gallery. The gallery takes a percentage of the sale and the rest is paid to the artist.

A commissioned piece of sculpture works in the opposite direction. The client wants a particular piece of art, hires an artist to do the work, pays a percentage, and when the work is finished, the client pays the remainder of the sum to the artist. In this scenario, the client gets a custom designed, unique piece of artwork and the artist is able to fund the creation of said work because it is sold before she even begins.

Now, this has many advantages, as you can see. The artist can afford to keep the studio lights on, buy materials, and if she prices things just right, a salary for all of her expertise and time. The disadvantage for many artists is that they do not get to dictate the content of the artwork. I, personally, do not see this as a disadvantage because I like to create sculpture in as a more collaborative effort. It’s a part of me and a part of them. To me, it’s a very symbiotic relationship.

Often, people are astonished at the cost of creating a sculpture and very often commissioned sculpture is even more expensive because the client may choose to prohibit creating an edition. (And edition is a series of multiple casts of the same work that can be sold to numerous collectors, thereby earning a little more for the artist.) Once the process for creating a work of art is revealed, most people appreciate the price a little bit more!

How does this work?

There are several ways to connect artist and client. One is a Call for Artist. When a particular organization is looking for a particular type of work, they will put out a call. Sometimes these calls end up in artist magazines, sometimes on the web. One of my personal favorites is: Call for Entry (https://www.callforentry.org/) An artist can search the database for calls that are of particular interest and apply right through the website. An artist can even have an online portfolio on the site and upload images as they pertain the particular calls. Very convenient. The downside is that thousands of other artists are likely looking at the same site and the competition is fierce.

Word of mouth is probably the best way to connect artist and collector. People who come with a recommendation tend to rise to the top in a sculpture competition for a commissioned work. For example, I had a piece in a show two years ago that had won a prize. The person in charge of the exhibit recommended my work for a call. I still had to apply, send in a proposal and design, but I never would have knew about it if I had not been connected to the person overseeing the work.

Once an organization decides on an artist, the two draw up a contract, come up with the terms and payment, and the artist works out a design. Once the deposit is received, the work commences! Progress payments are generally received along the way and a final payment is invoiced after the installation is complete.

Most saints in a church, portraits in a library, ball players at the ball field, monuments and memorials, and public art tend to be commissioned sculpture. As you can imagine, it would be very cost prohibitive for an artist to create these types of large scale works and hope to sell them through a gallery or agent. They are site-specific and the location is very important for the design of the work.

Do you have any more questions about commissioned sculpture?


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