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

Friday, 5 January 2018

2017 ARCS (Association of Registrars and Collections Specialists) Conference

2017 Biennial Conference, November 3-5 Vancouver, BC

I was incredibly fortunate to be assigned one of two bursaries offered by the UKRG/Blackwall Green to attend the ARCS conference held in Vancouver last month.

Welcoming Address (day one)
ARCS are a relatively young organisation, only 5 years old but have a large membership of over 1,400 members from more than 33 countries. Its mission is to represent and promote Registrars and Collections Specialists nationally and internationally, to educate them in the professional best practices of registration and collections care, and to facilitate communication and networking. Upon registering and hearing that well over 700 people were attending the 3 day event it was clear there would be plenty of opportunities for this!

As well as great networking opportunities the conference had an excellent combination of talks on offer. The presentation about Heritage Without Borders and some case studies about repatriation projects were particularly inspiring. There were also very practical sessions which were useful for me such as ‘Working with artists from contract to close’ and ‘Beyond the Hard Drive: A Primer on Acquiring Digital Artworks’. The subject of managing born digital material was given quite a lot of focus over the three days and it was helpful to listen to some of the talks and feel reassured that my own organisation was following suit in this area.

UK Colleagues gather outside the conference room
A recurring theme from many of the presentations was the message that we are rarely alone in our decision making and that it is really important to reach out to colleagues and liaise with other institutions if you need to.


Alice Rymill, Registrar, Bristol Museums and Art Gallery

Thursday, 7 December 2017

IAASF: International Arts and Antiquities Security Forum

The International Arts and Antiquities Security Forum (IAASF) is a leading conference and exhibition dedicated to the protection of arts, antiquities and cultural heritage. Providing those involved in the protection and safe custody of buildings, artefacts and events with an understanding of existing and emerging threats that can impact them. This year Andy Davis, Chairman of IAASF, kindly invited UKRG Committee members to attend their 2-day conference at Kensington Olympia and as a group we wanted to feedback to the membership on the insightful and interesting talks we attended.
Adversarial Threats to the Arts, Antiquities and Cultural Heritage Sectors
Professor Erroll Southers, Managing Director – Tal Global Corporation
Our first talk of the day was delivered by Professor Erroll Southers, former FBI agent in counterterrorism, Professor of Practice of Governance at University of Southern California, Managing Director in counterterrorism and infrastructure protection at TAL Global Corporation to name but a few of his achievements.
Professor Southers delivered a fascinating talk focusing on the different types of threats cultural institutions are facing in today's world. Although theft continues to be a threat we must protect ourselves against, we are now becoming targets for ideological attacks. This can be in the form of physical attacks on cultural sites or through the sale of looted property to fund causes.
To mitigate the risk of these types of attacks, Professor Southers recommended sites ‘reverse engineer the plot’ in order to understand where their weaknesses may lie. He also recommended using external consultants to find information we, as institutions, don’t think can be found.
Importance of Planned Protection – Meeting GIS Standards
William Brown, National Security Advisor, Arts Council England
William Brown attended the conference and delivered a talk on meeting GIS standards and risks to be aware of when assessing venues. Things to consider included:

  • Site locations: remote locations may be at higher risk of theft as response times or even ability to respond may be significantly reduced.
  • Natural forces: although not a common occurrence in the UK we should be ensuring we consider venue locations in terms of typical weather, both domestic and internationally
    • Are they in an area susceptible to storms, floods, brush fires, earthquakes, volcanoes?
    • Athough not common the UK has experienced forest fires in recent years
  • Cyber threat: can venue information be accessed remotely? Is your site or the borrowing venue on Google Maps and how much can you see?
William also emphasized the reputational risks museums face should they be the victims of theft or damage, accidental or malicious. As an example, William discussed the recent cases of the Maple Leaf coin at the Bode Museum in Berlin and the University Museum of Bergen. Both situations were pventable using simple measures to ensure the security of collections. William highlighted the need to demonstrate a proactive, not reactive, approach to security whilst also highlighting the need for ongoing training. Museum staff need to be aware of their responsibility for museum collections and equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to protect them. 
Jenni Fewery, Assistant Registrar, Science Museum

IAASF: Protecting Cultural Venues from Fire

Protecting Cultural Venues from Fire
Stewart Kidd, MD Loss Prevention Consultancy Ltd.

Stewart Kidd kicked off after the break on the first day to speak about Protecting Cultural Venues from Fire, a topic which I think covers some of the worst nightmares of a registrar!

Stewart shocked us all to begin with by stating how at present there is no data for UK heritage properties fires, meanings that we don’t actually know how many heritage buildings are damaged or destroyed by fire each year. This is a statistic that Stewart is hoping to change, after personal research he believes that there has been approximately 600 fires in Scotland’s historic buildings alone.

To prevent a fire you must first know what main causes could be for example; arson, cooking, electrical equipment and contractors. Whilst fire services will advise you about the law, their first priority will always be humans and not objects. This is a legal compliance that must be considered.

Stewart continued by discussing in detail his opinions on fire suppression systems, stressing the point that you should choose your system carefully. Fire is of course very destructive but the impact of firefighting can also cause just as many problems, leaving a mess, water and stability/structural damage to the building. Powder systems Stewart believes will destroy everything and should not be used. Similarly foam provides no benefits, it is acidic and can cause environmental problems for a building. There are also several different suppression systems that require buildings to be airtight to work … as we all know, this is usually not possible with historic buildings! 

Overall Stewart is an ambassador for sprinkler systems in historic properties. He believes they are hugely effective and are particularly beneficial for buildings that are not attended very often. Sprinklers work on heat not spoke and there is a high probability of getting a property back to normal soon after a fire. It is important to not mix up sprinklers however with mist – insurance providers are yet to be convinced by mist systems. When considering installing sprinklers, which for many may seem far too much a risk particularly around works of fine art, consideration must be taken for restrictions that may delay the fire services; geographical location, routes, access and time.

Fire can destroy hundreds of years of history in a matter of minutes, is your fire suppression system up-to-date?

Ellie Saggers, Assistant Registrar, The Fitzwilliam Museum