The international nature of art activity involves many artists and administrators visiting foreign countries, particularly during the summer.  Autumn heralds the start of the academic year in art schools and sees art students and lecturers returning, often from foreign ventures.  Many and strange are the tales that are told by those returning, and most involve some legal tangle.

As the economic situation gets more and more grim in this country, many artists and administrators are giving serious thought to the possibility of working abroad where the financial climate might be healthier.  Others are considering sending work to agents, dealers, galleries and museums abroad to take advantage of possibly healthier foreign markets and exposure.  To do this can also involve difficult legal, financial, political and administrative problems.

It might be useful at this time to look at complexities which can arise from foreign art activity, and see what help and advice is available.

Working abroad: permanently
Setting up a permanent work-base abroad need not mean emigration, but may do so.

Important consideration should be given to the possible requirement to change nationality, to taxation and to social security, health and property rights – all of this only after having fully investigated and evaluated one’s ability to survive through practising one’s profession.  Most foreign countries have completely different legal, fiscal, administrative and political systems and an immigrant would have to conform to the new regime.  Certain states have extremely narrow and powerful laws relating to censorship and freedom of expression which should be very carefully investigated by any potential emigrant. Marriage to foreign nationals (or to another Briton) in a foreign country can give rise to difficulties and in this respect advice should be sought on religion, race, colour and creed, particularly where the up-bringing of children may be involved.

Guidance and help on emigration should be available from the appropriate embassy or consulate in this country.

Working abroad: semi-permanently
It is possible to establish a permanent base abroad without actually emigrating; this has been successfully achieved by numerous artists and administrators over the years, in order to avoid tax laws, customs barriers and property difficulties which they felt were onerous or troublesome here.  In the Republic of Ireland, for example, artists working there permanently are generally not subject to income tax laws; in the USA there are great tax advantages for those wishing to give financial support to charities.

Although you need not emigrate to set up a foreign work-base, the same broad considerations should apply: such a worker would be subject to most of the laws in the foreign place, and to all the laws here.  One further, important factor ought to be born in mind: the need for visas and work-permits.  Some states, especially those members of the EEC, may not require foreign workers to acquire these, but many do and they can be very difficult to obtain for the oddest of reasons.  In the USA they are very particular about anyone with a criminal conviction, and about the nature of the work intended to be undertaken in their country – is it work that an American citizen could do equally well and might you be denying work opportunities to them?

Again guidance and help should be sought from appropriate embassies and consulates and, in addition, from lawyers, taxation, social security and national health authorities in this country, before embarking on such a venture, in order to clarify continuing obligations and rights here and the effect of such foreign activity on them.

Working abroad: temporarily
Increasingly, artists and administrators are spending extended periods abroad in connection with their work.  Obviously, the need for visas and work-permits should be checked, but it is equally important to remember that even a temporary visitor is subject to all the ordinary laws of the foreign state and that such laws will vastly differ from ours. Arrangements made with agents, dealers, galleries, museums, buyers and collectors may be subject to strange and curious rules, customs and practices – or be subject to none at all.  Financial regulations, especially in tax affairs, are almost certain to cause problems – apart from those faced later when trying to explain your foreign activities to British tax inspectors and customs and excise officers.  The need for a simple, vital thing like an international driving permit should be looked at, since the lack of one can seriously impede the ability to do any work at all.

Travelling scholarships and visiting fellowships are available, and often the administrators of such schemes can give valuable guidance and information, particularly regarding tax implications both here and abroad.

Exchanges with foreign colleagues, whereby each makes their home and work-base available to the other for an agreed period, need special consideration.  When contemplating such a project care should be taken to ensure that permission from landlords or owners of property has been obtained, if necessary; that security of tenure of the tenant will not be lost by letting another occupier into the premises; that responsibility for rent, rates and insurance premiums has been clarified, and for theft, loss or damage to contents of the property; that the use of motor vehicles and related insurances has been agreed; and that any necessary co-operation of neighbours or studio colleagues has been secured.  There are organisations which promote or assist with exchanges and they should be able to deal with most of these matters or give guidance on them.

One final point: arranging transport can be tricky, especially when purchasing cut-price tickets.  Make absolutely certain that any deal made with a travel agent or operator is recorded in writing.  Often, a cut-price ticket has to be secured well in advance, sometimes only on payment of the asking price, frequently by deposit of part of the fare and occasionally without payment at all.  Whatever is agreed, write to the agents confirming the arrangements they have promised to make for you and re-affirm your willingness to pay the agreed cut-price fare; keep a copy of the letter.  If, as happened to one artist recently, the agent fails to keep his bargain (usually at the last minute before departure date), you will have clear proof of the contract you have made if you have to sue him for the extra money you had to pay for the purchase of a full-price ticket at the last minute.

When visiting abroad temporarily, for short or extended periods, the transport of work can cause great problems.

Transporting work abroad
Whether taking the work with you or sending it separately, it is essential to ensure that the arrangements made for receipt and safekeeping in the foreign country are watertight.  Of paramount importance is to have a clear understanding of your legal relationship with the foreign agent, dealer, gallery, museum or collector – and to have it in writing.  Do remember that foreign laws may govern your relationships, and your rights, duties and obligations will differ greatly.  It is no good sending work to Milan for a show only to find, after the event, that you are responsible for shipping the unsold work back to this country.

Professional packing and freighting is essential, as are insurances against theft, loss, damage or destruction in transit and whilst in the show.  Import and export licences may be necessary to get work through customs barriers, not only at Dover but also at every entry and exit point of every state the work will pass through.  Local chambers of commerce can be very helpful in this respect, as can freighting firms which specialise in the international transport of art works; also the I.A.A. (the International Association of Art) assists its members with helpful documents to use at customs barriers.  Sometimes galleries, agents and dealers will handle all such matters; often they do not.  Nothing can be more frustrating than to find yourself at a customs barrier, somewhere in Europe, at 4 a.m. trying to discuss such technicalities with a non-English speaking official who will not let you pass, not for any price – not even for art.  Or, to receive a telegram from your friend/agent/dealer in Milan demanding your response to the problem of getting the work out of a bonded warehouse in Paris.

© Henry Lydiate 1980



This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.