RED Gallery changing hands, artists still owed money

After speaking out on payments owed by RED Gallery, artists are now worried that new ownership will delay their settlements even further.
Photo: Bruno Pires on Pexels. Photo of a mirror shattered on a gray surface with the reflection of a person's hand.

RED Gallery in Melbourne’s Fitzroy North has reportedly* changed hands for the second time after being sold to current owner Elle Rusch Drakos in 2019.

On 5 December, ArtsHub reported on the gallery after a number of artists spoke out about unprofessional conduct on the part of RED Gallery and Drakos. 

Among those was Ying Huang, who detailed to ArtsHub her long and protracted fight with the gallery to receive settlement from a solo exhibition held in mid-2023.

ArtsHub has received many similar reports in the month since publishing the story on RED Gallery, with the sheer number of responses showing the gravity and breadth of the gallery’s conduct.

In the conclusion of ArtsHub’s previous article was a brief response from the gallery owner, citing personal difficulties at the core of these issues. What ArtsHub was not able to publish at the time was Drakos’ intentions of selling the business. 

On Friday 12 January, a number of artists were notified of this sale through a group email sent from Drakos, which the artists shared with ArtsHub.  

In the email, Drakos wrote: ‘It is with a heavy heart that I announce that I have handed the business to new owners over Christmas.’ Addressed to the artists directly, it continues, ‘As your exhibitions were the last shows under my ownership I am running through all the administration with the new owners. All invoices will be paid and honoured.’

Prior to seeing this statement, ArtsHub reached out to RED Gallery to provide an update on 8 January. Drakos has since replied to our request, but refused to comment further on the sale, saying only, ‘[Red Gallery] will communicate any updates when we are better placed to do so.’

No details relating to the new ownership were included in the 12 January correspondence to artists, and in light of the article published by ArtsHub and the gallery’s now public indiscretions, this email offered little assurance. Furthermore it backs up claims previously made surrounding the gallery’s poor communications. 

Artists who exhibited up to three months ago are still awaiting payment, and have received no correspondence across December and into the holiday period.

Clive Jones, who exhibited at RED Gallery from 15-26 November, is still owed $16,000 from the sale of seven paintings sold ‘to a mixture of friends and art collectors’ to date. 

Describing the situation as ‘gut wrenching’, Jones tells ArtsHub payments from buyers were confirmed to have been received by the gallery and invoiced for by the artist on 15 December.

Despite being told settlement would be paid by the 20 December, Jones, who is a professional artist and relies on this income, is yet to receive full payment. 

‘I have been robbed of the pleasure of exhibiting and selling these works, because of how stressful this situation has been,’ Jones adds. 

Jones paid $5500 for the hire of the gallery rooms, signing contracts that explicitly outlined that all monies taken in sales by the gallery (which would be commission free) would be paid within 30 days of the close of the exhibition. 

Clauses pertaining to settlement terms match those of other artists who have exhibited at RED Gallery, including Huang.

For four weeks the invoice remained unpaid. A partial payment of less than half the amount owing was received on 15 January with no further communication about settlement of the full amount.  

Referencing the email sent from RED Gallery on 12 January, Jones adds, ‘Until this week we have had no further communication from her, although we have made repeated attempts to get in touch. We know that RED Gallery has had our money from sales since 15 December, which Elle confirmed to us on the phone.’

In light of developments this week, Jones has commenced proceedings with the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal seeking sale money and damages, plus an injunction to stop the sale of RED Gallery until after the matter is settled.

‘It is completely unacceptable – not to mention a clear breach of contract. We insist that Elle and RED Gallery settle all their existing debts before there is any change of ownership.’

Read: Dealing with disrespect

Another source, who did not want to be named, says that since ArtsHub reported on RED Gallery in December, they had ‘now discovered numerous omissions in information that they were given’.

‘[Drakos] repeatedly told us that “We’ve been doing this for 20 years” referring to RED Gallery’s reputation, but failed to mention that she had only taken over the business in 2020.

‘By reverse searching her ABN I found out her real name. There is very little else about her online, which is concerning as it further strengthens our suspicions that she is not a genuine or trustworthy person to deal with.’ 

One artist who exhibited at RED Gallery during the same period is currently owed over $2000.

Wishing to remain anonymous ‘until they received settlement’, they tell ArtsHub, ‘Just before my exhibition was going ahead I was made aware of the situation. I had already paid for the space and had already made the work, so I went ahead.’ 

While telling ArtsHub that there were no issues with the exhibition ‘at all’, the 30-day period for settlement has now passed, with the only communication received from the gallery since being the group email sent on 12 January.

‘If [Drakos] wasn’t handing over the gallery I would be more hesitant to take it at face value,’ they explain.

‘I’m hopeful it will be resolved. Since the last article came out, it feels like [Drakos] is at least admitting to things that were not done well, which is a starting point. If she is handing over the gallery, I am hopeful everything will be resolved.’ 

Artists are not the only ones keeping a close eye on RED Gallery. Soon after ArtsHub first reported on the gallery, the National Association of Visual Artists (NAVA) picked up on the story. Despite attempts, Executive Director  Penelope Benton has yet been unable to contact Drakos.

On Monday 15 January, Benton reached out to ArtsHub saying, ‘It is disappointing to hear that artists are still owed money from their artwork sales. It is never acceptable to not pay your artists.

‘NAVA is concerned that the transfer of debt in the sale of the gallery has not been made clear and we urge artists to seek legal advice.’

Referring to the Code of Practice for Visual Arts, Craft and Design that was endorsed by the Federal Government last year and sets out good practice recommendations for equitable arrangements between galleries and artists, Benton added, ‘The Code is useful for artists and galleries to understand their respective rights and responsibilities, and to negotiate exhibition and artwork sales agreements or terms and conditions. 

‘Central to its principles are respect, open communication and transparency. It is crucial that anyone going into business is familiar with the Code and adheres to its recommendations,’ Benton concluded.

Update on 18 January 2024

* Despite the contents of the email circulated to artists on Friday 12 January, ArtsHub has now been forwarded correspondence from RED Gallery stressing that the sale of the gallery has not yet been confirmed.

This article is published under the Amplify Collective, an initiative supported by The Walkley Foundation and made possible through funding from the Meta Australian News Fund.

Jessi Ryan (they/them) has been creating performance and exhibitions for the past 20 years, both locally, nationally and abroad- in this time collaborating with a huge number of artists from a broad cross section of cultural backgrounds. As a journalist they have written for and been published by some of Australia’s leading arts and news editorial across the last 10 years-and was recognised as a finalist for Globe Community Media Award in 2021. Ryan has also taken photos for a number of print and online publications.