Tuesday, 19 June 2018

UKRG Event: Security: Be Alarmed_William Brown, Security and GIS

Government Indemnity Scheme, Security requirements and how to meet them.

A write up of the talk given by William Brown, National Security Advisor, arts Council England.

Firstly we started by congratulating William on his 12th anniversary as the NSA, he is longest serving NSA and, from the queues of people around him at tea breaks he certainly seems to be very popular.

I’m sure many of us thought William worked alone, running around the country assessing a whopping 1400+ applications per year. But it turns out William has some colleagues - several of whom he introduced – who cover different areas of the country and have different security specialisms.

After a whistle stop tour of GIS security conditions, William ran through the three most likely risks to museum collections and loans: losses (theft or criminality), damage (deliberate or accidental including consequential), and natural forces (such as fire or flood).

He then discussed examples of the three using some of the most famous UK museum thefts and accidents, including some which had not been fully resolved. The examples covered a wide variety of museum objects, scenarios, personnel, and locations. William also used quite a few “What’s wrong with this photo?” games to get us thinking for ourselves and assessing hidden and obvious risks. William also discussed the ‘at risk' parts of museum buildings – such as copper and lead roofing - which really hit home the point that risk management is not just about the collections. The discussion then moved on to recognising and reporting suspicious activity in the galleries and the importance of this for early detection and deterrent.

At this point, when the audience was getting really paranoid, William talked about how positive actions and professional collaboration can mitigate both immediate and future risks. These simple steps of working together, sharing advice, developing professional skills, and ensuring information is accurate all enable us to work in confidence knowing that our collections and loans will remain safe and secure wherever they may be sent. 

Considering this can sometimes be a depressing subject, William did an excellent job of mediating the “doom and gloom” by focusing on how our everyday actions can have the most positive impact.

Joanne CS Smith, Registrar, Projects, National Trust.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

UKRG Event: Security: Be alarmed_UKRG facilities reports

A write up of the talk given by Carol Warner, Manager, Government Indemnity Scheme and Sanne Klinge, Collection Registrar, Tate.

UKRG facilities reports and supplements are intended for all museums and galleries as standard documents, and we are using them all the time. They list general requirements and are the basis of information needed when negotiating loans. Carol Warner and Sanne Klinge spoke about the background, purpose and use of UKRG Facilities reports and an introduction to a proposed review.

Carol refreshed our minds about what they are and what they cover; providing information about security, fire protection, environmental conditions, the borrowing museum’s practices, display details as well as general practical information. She reminded us that the reports should be regarded as a serious declaration as they are required to be signed and dated at the point of production. They also often form the basis for the National Security adviser’s (William Brown) reports and recommendations.

There are other known report formats such as the American model; however these hold different types of information and are not fulfilling our criteria so require additional questions to be asked of the borrower.

Sanne Klinge is heading up the process for reviewing and potentially changing the current UKRG reports. It has been some time since a serious revision and for this to be successful it will require effort and input from Registrar colleagues. The review will happen in the following stages:

Stage 1: A short survey will be sent to UKRG membership to gather feedback to identify key areas for improvement. The UKRG committee, Carol Warner and William Brown have already provided their views. The survey is due to go live in spring/summer 2018 – so please keep an eye out for this and respond.

Stage 2: A working group will be formed to discuss the survey results. If you want to be part of the working group let Sanne know. Other colleagues and stakeholders will be contacted for their input.

Stage 3: Implementation of changes. Some changes can probably be changed very quickly but other processes might take longer.

The length of the process is unknown and will be dictated in part by the results of the general survey. Areas for consideration: is there duplication in the reports or do we require more information? Should reports be consolidated or new reports created? Should the design and layout be changed?

Comments from colleagues in the room included having term definitions or glossary to accompany the reports; having facilities questions translated into other languages; making facilities reports more efficient to save our workloads; creating a standard that could potentially be used across other European or World institutions.

It would be fantastic to have a large involvement from the Registrar’s community so voices from all different areas of the sector can be heard.

Christina Gernon, Ashmolean Museum, Collections Registrar

UKRG event: Security: Be Alarmed_Andy Davis - Protecting the Protector

A large part of our workload is dominated by loans in and out of our collections and ensuring best collections care. But what about those we send to ‘protect’ our works whilst in transit and/or installation? Andy Davis’ engaging talk at UKRGs April event in the beautiful Hospitium at York Museum Gardens, made me reflect on just that, and the often ‘selfless’ plight of the courier.

The courier trip is often coveted by my colleagues and I can see the eye rolls when I attempt to emphasise that a courier trip is really not as glamorous as it may sound. However, despite spending months speculating and approving every minutiae of our work/s journey from loan request to crate specification, display plans to transport routes, it is often that I am only left to give a cursory glance over my courier itinerary whilst on route to the airport.

Landing on my most recent courier trip 

Only recently did a colleague refuse a courier trip as they were not willing to travel and stay in a particular city. This, in light of Andy’s talk, made me think about the policies and procedures in place when selecting a courier or agreeing to lend in the first place. When we discuss our loan requests the emphasis tends to be on the suitability to loan and the associated environmental conditions or risks to the work/s at the Borrowing venue, as opposed to scouring the crime statistics or infrastructural risks to sending a member of staff to a particular city.

Andy’s talk certainly emphasised the importance of researching the place you are visiting, from simple things like the weather and packing appropriately, to transportation and logistics, awareness of disease, conflict or communication infrastructure. The importance of planning is essential for the safe transit of both yourself and the work/s being couriered, but also to ensure a greater enjoyment throughout the courier experience and to gain more from the opportunities that acting as a courier can provide.

Olivia Macguire, Gallery Registrar, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Monday, 5 March 2018

UKRG event - Wellcome to the Jungle (1/3)

Provided by Sally Ann Coxon - Collections Registrar (Loans & Acquisitions) at National Galleries of Scotland - upon receipt of a UKRG bursary to attend 'Wellcome to the Jungle: Loans of Fun, 9th February at the Wellcome Collection, London. 

Simon Chaplin, Director of the Wellcome Collection kicked the day off by giving us a short overview of the Wellcome Collection and its founder, Henry Wellcome’s vision – as a place that explores research, ideas and health, and exists at the intersection of science, life and art.

'A museum of modern nature’. 
Emma Smith, Exhibitions Registrar, Wellcome Collection
What is nature? How do we put nature into a museum?  
This exhibition was made up entirely of objects lent or donated by the public, with their accompanying stories. There was no curatorial voice, the individual stories made up the interpretation for the exhibition. The public were invited to attend an event with an item that best summed up what nature meant to them.
Emma explained some of the questions and challenges raised.
How do we handle the loan? What on earth might they bring!?
A simplified two-page loan agreement was produced and advance planning was needed with the conservation department in case anyone brought hazardous items. Over 200 people took part in the weekend event dropping off objects. Most visitors used common sense. 
The most challenging material included was a piece of bread. After some thought and advice taken from other institutions, the bread was dehydrated and sealed in resin to prevent mould or decay pests becoming a problem.
Emma played us some voice clips of a few of the contributors talking about their objects and gave us a fascinating account of the June 2017 exhibition and how a crowd-sourced exhibition can work. 


How do you solve a problem like a Fatberg?
Helen Parkin, Assistant Registrar, Museum of London

The world’s largest Fatberg (a huge congealed mass of fat, wet wipes and generally unpleasant stuff) was found in the sewers under East London in 2017, and the Museum of London decided to acquire a portion of it.

Helen explained some of the amusing yet very real collections management challenges presented with acquiring and displaying a piece of sewage. The initial questions were:
  •  A) Why would anyone want to collect that!?
  • B) What is it made of?
  • C) How can it be made safe for display?
  • D) How do we acquire it?
The Fatberg was felt to be an important and relevant addition to the displays in the year-long ‘City Now City Future’ season.

Conservators assessed it like any other acquisition, and the Due Diligence was considered. It was thought that there would be a low risk of people making a claim as they'd discarded the matter in the first place.

Much consideration was given to display. Should the fatberg be pickled? Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde pieces and Marc Quinn’s refrigerated objects were considered for inspiration. The best solution seemed to be to air-dry the piece, resulting in a hard, dry substance which could be displayed in a double-thickness enclosure, removing the risk of toxicity, disease etc. to staff and visitors.

In collaboration with Thames Water, close attention had to be paid to the hazards of working with sewage and use of the necessary personal protective and handling equipment.

These are not things you imagine you’ll have to study when you become a Registrar!

UKRG Event - Wellcome to the Jungle (2/3)

Buzz, bubble, and stir: a recipe for trouble.
Brandi Pomfret, Echelon Arts Management

Brandi gave us an informative and lively talk regarding some of the more challenging acquisitions and installations that she has encountered.

An installation by Rikrit Tiravanija required food to be cooked but of course no heating up was permitted in the gallery. After negotiations with the artist, a compromise was reached and the food was provided from the cafe instead. 

Brandi thought if she could manage an artwork feeding the public, she could manage anything. Until...the proposal to display Wolfgang Laib’s ‘Pollen from Hazelnut’ was announced.

This was followed by a Robert Gober installation which required various modifications to the gallery space, and presented a few surprises. This in turn was followed by…bees!

Pierre Huyghe’s Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt) had a live bee colony and wax on a concrete reclining nude.

Allergies…holes in the gallery floor…constantly running baths behind doors…bees… 

Talk about the unexpected! Most of us breathed a sigh of relief that we haven’t had to deal with these. Yet!?

Brandi concluded by saying this shows how important registrars are - to ask questions and document things properly. Her valuable advice (when faced with such challenges!) was to use previous displays as a learning experience and begin talks well in advance. 

The registrars after us will rely on our good documentation, after all.

‘When is a gun a gun?’.
Hannah Kauffman, Deputy Registrar, V&A

Hannah explained the background story of ‘The Liberator’ and Texan law student Cody Wilson firing it in 2013.

The V&A’s decision to acquire a version of the world’s first 3D-printed firearm was both controversial and complicated. The gun represented a piece of manufacturing history; so the curator had to convince Wilson that 'The Liberator' was a collectible creative piece. 

The real complications came when the import procedures were explored. Numerous legal departments were consulted such as the home office and HMRC, and it became apparent that the US and UK government definitions of a gun were different and the 3D-printed gun had exposed a loophole in the law. The US export documentation didn’t match the UK import documentation and only after Wilson was advised to split the major and minor components, could the import finally be completed - a year after the process began.

In the meantime, the V&A found a London 3D printer who could make a replica Liberator in just three days. Now the V&A has multiple versions of the gun. This thought-provoking talk illustrated some of the complex and sensitive issues facing collection and display of firearms (and the definition of them).

UKRG event: Wellcome to the Jungle (3/3)

Landseer in a Lorry.
Janice Slater, Head of Collections Management, National Galleries of Scotland

Janice gave us the history of the major acquisition of Sir Edwin Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen which was strongly supported by the public and funding bodies before being acquired in May 2017. She then told us how she was inspired by a comedy sketch on the telly (Chewin’ the Fat – Community Art) to take Monarch of the Glen to school pupils who may not visit art galleries in the major cities – in the back of the gallery’s art truck.

Janice and her colleagues in conservation, art handling and security worked together to find the necessary solutions to concerns regarding environmental conditions, security and access to meet the necessary GIS standards and offer a unique up close and personal experience with this work.

The painting was glazed and fitted into a custom-made t-frame with Perspex and a data-tag inside to monitor the environment. The truck heating was on and the side door open to regulate the temperature. Portable stairs were used for access (modified) and a maximum of 10 visitors were on board, monitored and supervised at all times.

We watched a short video of the comedy clip followed by the NGS reality, showing the pupils reactions when they heard the painting was outside their school. They had been studying the painting in the classroom, and when their teacher surprised them by telling them the painting was outside, their reaction was heart-warming.
Art for all!

Alyson Rolington, European Registrars Conference Chair - update

The latest news on the 2018 London European Registrars Conference was provided by Alyson.
A conference organiser has been appointed and the dates were announced as 17-19 November.
The website should be launched by the end of February and a call for papers by 1 March. There will be three main themes:

EVOLVE (future, new ideas...)
REFRESH (day to day stuff, customs, procedures and so on)
COLLABORATE (how we work with each other, EU partners, worldwide)

Nadine Loach, Chair of the Sustainable Exhibitions for Museums Network

A brief overview of the group’s new survey, ten years after the 'Greening Exhibitions' survey.

The survey address will be circulated soon; the findings can hopefully be presented in November at the conference.

Aisha Burtenshaw (UKRG Chair) closed the event by thanking all the speakers and the Wellcome Collection for hosting, and went on to proclaim - We're amazing! 

Which nobody can deny…!

Thanks to UKRG for the travel bursary – and to the committee and speakers for putting together such a fun and informative event.

Sally-Ann Coxon

Collections Registrar (Loans & Acquisitions)
National Galleries of Scotland

Wednesday, 10 January 2018