According to California codes Civil Code, Section 1738.6 (c) an art dealer who takes in works by an artist on consignment is responsible for the loss of or damage to the work of art. It reads in substantial part:
(a) The art dealer, after delivery of the work of fine art, shall...
constitute an agent of the artist for the purpose of sale or
exhibition of the consigned work of fine art within the State of
(b) The work of fine art shall constitute property held in trust
by the consignee for the benefit of the consignor, and shall not be
subject to claim by a creditor of the consignee.
(c) The consignee shall be responsible for the loss of, or damage
to, the work of fine art.
It goes on to state in Section 1738.8:
Any provision of a contract or agreement whereby the
consignor waives any provision of this title is void.
In plain English this means that a dealer is responsible for what happens to your work while it is in her/his custody and anything the dealer makes you sign to the contrary isn't worth the paper it is printed on.
Why this should not apply to a non-profit art center -- which is acting as a dealer when it accepts your work for a show from which it can be sold -- I don't know.
I don't want things to be harder for non-profit art centers, but my main concern is the individual artist. Even if it is true, as the one lawyer told me, that insurance for the individual artist is cheap, allowing the art center to absolve itself from all responsibility is disrespectful toward the artist, and, as I mentioned before, only encourages carelessness and poor security from the center.
In my opinion, forcing the artist to sign a release of liability only further marginalizes the artist and the value of his/her work. If the law is indeed what the one lawyer said it is, wouldn't it be so much more respectful for the center to say something like this: "We have a very meager budget but we value your work highly and will do our very best to see that it is not damaged, lost or stolen. If, in the unlikely event something should happen to it, we will work with you to make it right to the best of our ability."
Comments and information welcome.