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Ask Lola's Lawyer

by Adam Bobker

Dear Lola,

Those young lads at Studio Gallery invited me into their Christmas show, so I put in a small work that consisted of a 4 x 6 photo of the bridge in Sydney, Australia, with a beggar in an all-out donkey costume on all fours. On a shelf below the photo, I had placed a snow globe of the ubiquitous Sydney bridge and opera house. Although the globe only cost me $5, I looked everywhere to find that damn thing. On opening night, someone thought it would be really clever to steal my snow globe! Studio Gallery never thought to tell me, nor did they make any apologies or efforts to find the globe. What happens now? Are they off the hook simply because they think they are? What would the piece be worth, assuming they have to pay. It was only a $5 snow globe, but it was part of my work.

Signed, Stolen Artist

    Dear Sto,
    Cutting to the chase ... a painting is definitely worth more than the paint and canvas. Similarly, a snow globe is not just a snow globe once you have picked it tenderly from the shelf at Morris's Fun O' Rama and made it part of Xmas in Sydney. But you don't need me to tell you that found objects can be art and that art is more than the sum of its parts. From a legal point of view, theft is a crime and can give rise to a civil action. But you have to identify the culprit. If you don't know who stole the globe you can't sue them. But be careful about going around saying that Studio Gallery is guilty of anything more than negligence for failing to keep your work safe from thievesÜor else you could be faced with a claim for slander! Frankly, a suit for negligence seems like a long shot. If you did sue, you'd be looking to get damages based on the loss you have suffered. Placing a value on art isn't easy because each work is unique. In cases like this, the name of the artist counts for more than anything else. So if you're looking for a big payoff, get busy getting famous.

Dear L,

My (former) gallery is really burning me up. Things were great for a while, and then they went South, deep South, Tierra del Fuego south. I want out! I wrote to the owner and said I wanted my consignment work back right away. But when I went to pick the stuff up, he said that it was all in his basement and that I could call the cops for all he cared. He wasn't giving it back. I told him a while ago I would do another show for his gallery, but that was before all this bullshit. Needless to say, I don't want to do the show. What should I do?

Signed, Movin' On Up

    Dear Mo,
    Check your consignment agreement. It likely says how the arrangement is to be terminated. If it says that either you or the gallery can call it quits with notice in writing, give proper notice and then return to pick up your stuff. If he doesn't give your work back, you can sue him. He can't just keep the work and sell it on commission. He is clearly in the wrong on this one. Faced with a suit, he'll likely cave and give the stuff back. About the show: you may not have had anything in writing, but an oral agreement to do a show can be binding. However, you could take the position that by holding on to the works after the consignment agreement was terminated, he has repudiated the agreement to do the show. In layman's terms, he has behaved badly, so why should you have to do the show at his gallery. Before it is all done, you should release each other from any further obligation, leaving you both free to move on.

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Disclaimer: THIS COLUMN IS WRITTEN FOR ENTERTAINMENT ONLY. These situations are fictitious. Any similarity to one you know of is a coincidence. Every case is different. These are NOT legal opinions. YOU rely on the ADVICE contained in the answers at your own peril. IF YOU HAVE A REAL LEGAL PROBLEM CALL A LAWYER. (Adam Bobker is really a lawyer.)

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