Tuesday, 4 June 2019

UKRG Event: Magical Mystery Store - The Protest Lab

The Protest Lab wants your objects – how to manage an experimental loan agreement

Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest is an exhibition that aims to highlight the relevance of the Peterloo Massacre (1819) to current campaigns for democracy. The People’s History Museum (PHM) is asking members of the public to bring in their own objects to be put on open display alongside original Peterloo artefacts. Sam Jenkins, Collections Officer, told the audience how PHM approached loans management in such an experimental exhibition format.

In recent years, the model for co-curation has been applied by museums working with different communities. By pulling out recent stories of protest PHM is encouraging its audience to consider what everyday acts of protest they engage with. Objects from a march, like placards or badges, will be shown alongside objects like disposable coffee cups or a lipstick. Drop-in days have been organised from March – September 2019 where individuals can bring in their items of protest and discuss their story with a member of staff. This cultural exchange of insight and expertise between museum staff and members of the public contributes to the sector’s move towards better representation of previously unheard narratives.

However, the challenge faced by PHM was how to manage all of these personal items moving in and out of their care. As Lyn Stevens Tweeted during the event, complex situations call for simple loan agreements!

One form was drafted to capture all of the information PHM needed about the object, including a signature agreeing to the clauses listed in the image above. Individuals confirm that they are the legal owner and that they are lending their object at their own risk – a smart decision made by PHM as the items are on open display. Object descriptions and their connected stories of protest are also captured on this loan agreement. Whilst people love the idea of writing the label for their object they aren’t necessarily prepared to write it at the time of depositing the item which can cause a delay in proceedings. To make the loans process clearer, handling tables were introduced at the drop off-events to provide a platform for discussion between potential lenders and PHM staff.

An exciting element of this project is that the exhibition will grow and change as new objects come in throughout the year. PHM will be able to engage with stories of protest that are happening now as, in theory; individuals bring in an object connected to a march that happened last week! The collection is a showcase of democracy so it reflects a variety of stories but it also highlights some gaps. Whilst the collection is largely left-leaning this project has found that the people it is trying to engage with most are probably out protesting when the drop-off days are scheduled. Social media is used to encourage people to bring in their items of protest and as many groups organise protests on spaces like Twitter, this feels like an appropriate platform to advertise PHM’s experimental project.

The Protest Lab project is in the same vein of a paper from earlier in the day entitled ‘But what if we tried?’ at Touchstones, Rochdale Art Gallery. Projects like these are exactly what the sector needs to further encourage a wider range of institutions to be brave enough to take on challenging subjects. PHM provides opportunities for people to be inspired by ‘ideas worth fighting for’ and I think most would agree that broader community engagement and representation in collections is an idea worth fighting for.

Written by Louise Hanwright, Project Reveal Loans Officer, National Trust Scotland

UKRG Event: Magical Mystery Store - How do you document a Victorian anti-garroting collar?

How do you document a Victorian anti-garroting collar? Introducing museum collection management practices to the Metropolitan Police Service Heritage Centre.
The Metropolitan Police Service was founded in 1829 and has two museum collections. The Crime Museum, formerly the Black Museum, was established in 1874 as the repository for criminal evidence. It is housed at New Scotland Yard and is not officially open to the public, although in the 19th century celebrities were able to visit, and it provided the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels. The Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre opened more recently, in 2009. As a museum of the police service, it collects and displays items related to the day-to-day business of the police, such as uniforms and equipment. 

Dr. Clare Smith took up the post of Centre Manager in 2018 and was faced with the immediate and huge challenge of cataloguing and classifying thousands of items. Existing documentation was sparse, slightly erratic and below museum standard; often objects had been classified by name of owner rather than type, demonstrating the ingrained police practice of recording everything as evidence with a story to be told. Being forced to re-catalogue the collection has resulted in some nice surprises – for example, the service’s medal collection previously thought to be 300 in size is in fact three times as large.

Knowing that 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of women in the Met police, Clare decided to concentrate on material that could be used in a forthcoming exhibition on female police officers. Thus, giving herself a focus and a deadline to see tangible results.

Clare’s simplified themed displays and policewomen exhibition have proved a great success with the Centre tripling its visitor figures. 

Another major challenge for Clare has been to learn the police language of her superiors (note to reader: SPOC means single point of contact, not the Star Trek character!), to educate them on the importance of museum practices and to generally raise the Heritage Centre’s profile within the Met’s strategic priorities.

Clare’s next cataloguing project will be to tackle the uniform collection. She is also aiming to tell the story of the police without bias or backing away from difficult stories and to give a voice to religions, races and groups who have not previously been represented in the displays. Alongside this, Clare is busy writing policies on loans and acquisitions, establishing networks with other police museums and volunteers, preparing for a move from West London to Woolwich and is already starting to think about how to mark the bicentenary of the Met in 2029. Good luck Clare! You have a big job on your hands and I, for one, can’t wait to see the results.

Written by Hannah Kauffman, Deputy Registrar, V&A Museum

UKRG Event: Magical Mystery Store - Punk 1976-78

Punk 1976-78, a national touring exhibition collaboration between the British Library, Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool Central Library

The first talk of the day was by Professor Colin Fallows from John Moores University and Polly Mills, Touring Exhibitions Co-ordinator at the British Library on their collaborative Punk exhibition at Liverpool Central Library, November 2018 – January 2019.

This was the third iteration of the Punk exhibition since it opened at the British Library in London in 2016 and toured to Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Gardens in 2017. Each venue re-interpreted the exhibition differently to embed the topic within their local punk culture. 

Over the past 20 years the John Moores University has established a large punk collection and world-class archive of counter culture. Professor Moores is an expert on the subject having curated punk exhibitions in nine different countries over the past 12 years. The exhibition was the result of a long-standing relationship with the British Library who had themselves been actively collecting punk material for a while. The content of the exhibition was a mixture of loans from both institutions alongside some private collections.

The setting of a library – a quiet space for study or contemplation – appears an unusual choice for an exhibition on punk – the anarchic, loud and demonstrative music genre. The curators played on this unusual juxtaposition by displaying large photos in the reading room areas of Liverpool Central Library.

The exhibition covered 1976 – 1978 and focused around five main themes: Before the Storm; Be responsible, demand the impossible; Punk goes overground; Punk rock explosion and; Now form a band. Objects and artefacts were distributed across several spaces in the library including parts of the original historic buildings. Special permission was granted to remove Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’ from the Oak Room and display singles covers and a leather jacket in its place. The beautiful Hornby library was also taken over by the exhibition where material was carefully placed, not scattered, and individually presented in reference to the Edwardian setting. 

Polly Mills spoke about the aims of the British Library’s touring programme, the library network which sparked the collaboration with Liverpool Central Library, and the challenges of staging an exhibition in this environment, such as security not meeting GIS standards, working with AV material and the tight budget meaning some copyright costs were prohibitive.

The benefits clearly outweighed any challenges though; a main one being the opportunity to reach a non-museum audience. Having visited Liverpool Central Library, I have seen first-hand what a well-used and loved resource it is. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, it was filled with people of all ages studying for exams, accessing the internet, reading newspapers, or simply having a cup of tea at the café. Despite experiencing threats to their survival in recent years, libraries still represent the heart of communities.

A legacy of the exhibition is a small permanent display in the main reading room on Eric’s, the Liverpool nightclub which hosted a Sex Pistols gig in 1976, which showcases ephemera - posters, flyers, contracts and tickets – reminding locals and visitors of Liverpool’s musical and cultural heritage beyond the Beatles!

Written by Hannah Kauffman, Deputy Registrar, V&A 

UKRG Event: Magical Mystery Store "But what if we Tried"

But what if we tried? Bryan Beresford (Curatorial & Community Engagement Coordinator, Rochdale Arts and Heritage Service) and Harry Meadley, Artist

Touchstones Rochdale Art Gallery is part of a larger facility managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Cultural Trust (Link4Life). At the UKRG Magical Mystery Store event at Tate Liverpool, artist Harry Meadley talked about the challenge he set the gallery. Namely, to display as much of the collection as possible in a single exhibition. The collection contains 1600 objects and the exhibition space consisted of 3 galleries. The team at Touchstones knew it was an impossible task, but zealously endeavoured to present both normally unseen pieces and processes to the public. A key element of this involved turning the institution inside out. For instance, staff held meetings in the gallery space, T-frames and opened crates were exhibited and conservators and technicians were filmed explaining their roles. The gallery presented the films shot by Harry in the gallery store, a space that isn’t normally open to the public. The films captured staff members discussing the challenges of producing contemporary exhibitions. They also captured frank discussions about the obstacles the gallery has faced during its transition from a regional museum to charitable status.

The exhibition ultimately contained 360 works and purposely failed to present themes and narratives. Pieces were presented according to selections of accession numbers and resulted in a varied and colourful show. The installation shots captured how the eclectic hang afforded visitors the opportunity to appreciate the diversity of works in their civic collection.

Bryan Beresford (Curatorial & Community Engagement Coordinator at Touchstones) explained that the exhibition engaged visitors and their feedback highlighted that they valued the gallery’s effort to not only hang as much as possible but also to make them privy to the process. Harry and Bryan explained that like other councils under austerity measures, Rochdale Council had questioned selling parts of their collection. I don’t think I was alone in thinking how brave it was of Touchstones to embark on a project like this. It was clear from the presentation and video clips that Touchstones and Rochdale Council were under immense financial pressure. It was encouraging to hear that visitors enjoyed the exhibition and that their feedback along with good press (including coverage in national papers) helped the Council keep sight of the fact that the collection is a cultural asset worth conserving and celebrating rather than flogging.

My take away from Harry and Bryan’s talk was that asking unconventional questions of ourselves like, in this case, ‘But what if we tried?’ can lead to innovative displays, enhanced visitor experience and strengthened institutional relationships.

Written by Rebecca Bailey, Assistant Exhibitions Manager, Royal Academy of Arts

Friday, 29 March 2019

UKRG Event: Art Crime; Due Diligence

Presentations on due diligence by Professor Janet Ulph, University of Leicester, and James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries & General Counsel at the Art Loss Register, were important reminders of the ongoing due diligence work essential to museums and galleries on legal and ethical grounds.

Due Diligence
Professor Janet Ulph, University of Leicester

Due diligence covers both legal and ethical considerations. The museum sector is subject to its different sector guidelines to the art trade, which has ethical codes of conduct moderated by commercial concerns, so the two sectors engage in differentiated due diligence as a result. An example of ‘good’ legal provenance not being enough for museums is the stolen ‘Tiger Yung’, which was sold last year for £410,000. As the item was stolen in the 19th century, the thief’s descendent could claim good title after 6 years (not possible after the Limitation Act 1980) and was subsequently able to sell it legally. Although the object had good legal title, a museum would reject this type of item on ethical grounds.

Many European countries protect purchasers by enabling those that purchase in good faith to acquire legal title, unless it can be proven that they did not buy in good faith. This is much more difficult than the reverse – under UK law, a purchaser has to prove they did buy the item in good faith.

Museums hold a position of trust in the community that must be upheld, so this is key when undertaking due diligence for new acquisitions. The UNESCO Convention 1970 was an early provision that encouraged the museum sector and art trade around the world to create ethical codes of practices. The Collections Trust due diligence checklist is an excellent example of differentiated due diligence, where we are asked to engage with ethical considerations rather than just “box tick.”

The first money-laundering regulation was introduced in 1993 and the most recent in 2017: ‘Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations.’ From 2020, the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive will extend the 2017 Regulations to cover:
  • Sales of art
  • By traders and auction houses
  • Involving transactions of 10,000 euros or more (irrespective of payment method)
The directive aims to increase transparency by requiring proof of clients’ identities and for traders to act with enhanced scrutiny. HMRC are the supervising authority for this directive and there will be big risks to traders if they do not comply. Many in the art market are concerned that this will slow sales down, particularly at trade fairs, however it is good news for preventing trafficking of cultural property and should hopefully enable easier provenance checks for museums when acquiring from traders and auction houses after 2020.

Due Diligence
James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries & General Counsel at the Art Loss Register

The Art Loss Register (ALR) is a private company, founded in 1990, with the goal of recovering stolen and looted art. There are over 500,000 items subject to a claim on their database, including items that have been stolen, looted, are fakes or subject to civil dispute. Over 400,000 items moving through the international art market are checked against the database every year. The team regularly check catalogues for art fairs, auction houses and one off sales against their database and review provenance in detail.

Due diligence checks by The ALR usually involve two key stages; database checks and provenance checks, except for auction catalogues where only the database check is carried out. The ALR works with international organisations to recover cultural property, including Interpol, the US Department of Justice, Carbinieri, Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgurtverluste, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and lootedart.com.

Museums regularly carry out due diligence on acquisitions, loans between museums or immunity from seizure and after a claim or issue has emerged; however carrying out checks on gifts, legacies, loans from private individuals / the art market and as part of an ongoing process are not seen as often by The ALR. As per Professor Janet Ulph’s presentation, due diligence varies across sectors; there is some presence in the art trade, however currently they are not always carried out as well as it should be.

Current high risk areas include:

  • Nazi looted art, particularly decorative arts (porcelain, silver) and artists such as Klimt, Schiele and Liebermann
  • Antiquities described with historic place names, e.g. “South Arabian”, “Western Asiatic” and “Bactrian” 
  • Ethnographic material from the colonial era. 

Advice for those acquiring cultural property: 
  • Insist on provenance – more is always better.
  • Agree on a minimum standard and focus on risk areas. 
  • Check databases and look for red flags – high risk items, people involved (now and in the past) and the nature of the transaction. 
  • Ask vendors questions and record answers for any potential future claims – if you are lied to then the vendor is at fault, but if you do not ask questions then you are at fault! 
  • If vendors will not release information, then assess the risk – why is information being withheld? 
  • Use the internet to research names - do not accept initials in provenance history, as they cannot be tested. 
  • Use LostArt or the Collections Trust website, help to address the gaps in the years 1933-1945. 
It is far better to deal with issues that might arise from provenance checks, than to wrongly acquire an object. If in doubt, do not proceed with the acquisition.

Importantly, due diligence is an ongoing process and should not be a one-off check on acquiring or borrowing an object. Carry out targeted due diligence on risk areas of the collection. Publish provenance research and gaps in provenance online to share any possible concerns. Some museums may be reluctant to do this due to reputational damage and risk, however the reputational impact is usually much greater if provenance issues go unaddressed. If there is concern, then communicating this to possible claimant parties is the best way towards certainty.

Written by Jill McKnight, Exhibitions Officer, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Thursday, 7 March 2019

UKRG Art Crime: Crimes against Museums

Crime against Museums: Prevention and detection
A presentation by DC Sophie Hayes and DC Ray Swan

It was fascinating, scary and inspiring in equal measure hearing about the work of the investigating cultural heritage crime. Although the Met Police’s art and antiques unit operate within the London foot print. Their impact and reach is felt far further if a stolen item, forgery or fraud has origins within London.

Collaborative working across not only police forces, museums, galleries, dealers, private
collectors and places that buy and sell antiques is vital in the work that they do.

  • Thefts
  • Cultural heritage theft
  • Forgeries and associated fraud

Some items are more vulnerable to theft and portability of the item is key. The founding of
the unit came about in 1968 due to a high proportion of philatelic collections being
targeted. Stamps are incredibly easy to sell on due to their size and peoples desire to have
rare stamps within collections.

The internet and online market places have enabled stolen items and forgeries to be
passed on more easily.

What can we do to prevent a crime taking place?

It may sound simplistic but keeping up to date records including photographs and film of
item including unique markings and any changes. An item is most vulnerable to theft and
damage when it is being moved between two locations so it important to also document
item movements.

Criminal networks that are involved in heritage theft are often involved in other criminal
activity. These groups are highly organised and may well be involved with forgery and
fraud activity.

Replica items only become illegal when there is an attempt to represent them as original
items. These criminal gangs will then offer the items to private collectors and also to
Museums. This can include planting documents in archives and databases to create a
false provenance for an item and creating realistic documents.

Assume nothing- just because someone looks unassuming and is perfectly charming
doesn’t make them incapable of criminal activity. Believe no one- question everything, if it
doesn’t feel right say no and contact the Police if you suspect criminal activity is taking
place. Check everything and take your time- if you feel pressured to make decision, they
maybe more to it than meets the eye.

Written by Rachel Comnan, Collections Care Officer, Haynes International Motor Museum

Thursday, 28 February 2019

UKRG Event: Art Crime; 'Dealing' offences

UKRG Art Crime Conference

Emily Gould, Senior Researcher from the Institute of Art and Law talked about Heritage Crime and the ‘dealing’ offences under UK law during the UKRG Event Stolen Heritage: Art Crime, Restitution and Spoliation on Friday 15th February 2019 at the Museum of London Docklands.

Unfortunately cultural and heritage destruction is an everyday matter; whether it is the looting and destruction of cultural artefacts in the Middle-East, removal of religious statues in India or thieves targeting the local village church in the UK. Luckily some crucial work is being undertaken to prevent these crimes, bring justice to the perpetrators and to encourage the restitution of objects.

Several laws have been enacted since 2002 to protect against illicit traffic in cultural property including the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act in 2003, the Iraq (UN sanctions) Order 2003 and the Export Control (Syria Sanctions) Order 2014 to prevent dealing in cultural property illegally removed from those countries and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017 against the dealing in cultural property unlawfully exported from an occupied territory.

It is not easy to prosecute dealers of stolen properties. When the due diligence is tampered with or incomplete it is difficult to prove the objects origin, also the dealer can only be prosecuted when it can be proven he is fully aware that the object was indeed unlawfully removed and with this knowledge did not hand the object in to the authorities. Under the Dealing in Cultural Objects Act, only one person has been convicted; Chris Cooper was sentenced to a prison sentence following a looting spree in churches in Herefordshire. Later this year he will be charged again and we await the verdict with eager interest in the hope more prosecutions will follow.

Since 2017 the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act has come into force. This Act enables the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and creates a new offence of dealing in cultural property unlawfully exported from an occupied territory. While no immediate result is expected in the form of prosecutions; it is a strong reminder that those dealing in the art trade have a strong responsibility to check the provenance and challenge any doubt. The difficulty with the existing legislation is that it has a legal complexity and it is difficult to prove the source of stolen artefacts; we need to create more awareness and knowledge of the new legislation and perhaps even change the way we use the existing legislative tools.

During the second part, Alex Herman talked about the difficulty surrounding the restitution of colonial artefacts in museums. This discussion was raised after the French president Emmanuel Macron held a speech in 2017 in Burkina Faso stating that he wanted all the conditions for the temporary or permanent restitution of African Heritage to Africa be met in 5 years.

This speech led to the commissioning of the Sarr Savoy Report by Macron in 2018 by Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy and released in November of that year. This report, published in French and (a strange translation of) English was mainly written from a post-colonial view. The criteria they noted for ‘restitutability’ (yes this is not an English word) was firstly a Swift Restitution, which meant the objects had to be taken through military aggression, acquired through military or administrative agents or acquired on ethnographic missions (pre-1960) or loaned from African Museums and never returned.

Secondly, further research is required for items that came to museums after 1960 by gift or donation but reason to believe they were in Africa before that date. If the date is unclear it depends on how strong the interest of the requesting nation is.

And thirdly, items that were to be retained for the French collections were subject to a free, fair and documented transaction, purchased with due diligence on the art market after 1970 UNESCO Convention or gifted by foreign state of head.

But, how does this work in practice and is it legal? According to the French law the inalienability of public collections is safeguarded and items can’t just simply be returned. There are estimated over 90,000 items of African Heritage in French Collections.

Working with difficult heritage laws is an issue for several European countries and a loophole had to be found. An Italian institution had the same problem when returning the Venus of Cyrene to Libya; an international agreement eventually provided for this.

More problems have arisen than are being solved by the report; there is quite often no provenance documentation and a ‘free, fair and documented’ transaction seems difficult to prove. Also the work will be returned to the African states, not the local community or individuals. And for the law to change a broader political scope is needed. But Macron has promised to return the Benin Bronzes and also the Cultural Minister of Senegal is looking for a solution for over 10.000 objects which he wants to request. The French came up with a solution to circumvent their law to give items on a renewable 5 year loan that in theory would be indefinitely.

The French Museums are not pleased with the report but have been quiet due to the sensitivity of the subject. They are concerned about the scope of the report; which could have a serious impact on the French Museums. And how will this impact other nations? Macron only mentioned African Heritage, but what about Oceania’s heritage? There is still a lot to be done and long term solutions to be found.

Written by Wietske Veenhuis, Assistant Registrar (Exhibitions), National Galleries of Scotland