Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Tales of an Expat Registrar - by Brandi Pomfret


For those who I haven’t met yet, I’m Brandi, and I’m an British-American Collection Manager and Registrar who, after being born and raised in the US, moved last year to London in order to try my hand at the art world on this side of the pond. 



I’m sure all Registrars across the world can name the ways in which we are similar, despite our geographic locations – arranging transport of loans and exhibitions, confirming the packing of artworks are up to a universal standard, and, of course, metaphorically holding the hand of panicked couriers – but what has struck me since relocating is how different we are as well.
The easiest and most obvious is of course our terms for items of our daily life.  Growing up with family members from opposite sides of the ocean taught me at an early age of things like pram/carriage, pictures/movies, and aubergine/eggplant, but not until I had worked in galleries and museums was I introduced to Registrar-specific differences like skate/dolly, lorry/truck, and boot/trunk.

Non-surprisingly this has been the easiest hurdle to overcome, whereas perhaps the most complicated would be the role of the Registrar (and note for ease I will include Exhibition Managers in this term “Registrar” as well, since in my vernacular it references working with collections or exhibitions).
In the US, the Registrar is, among other things, responsible for all condition checking and packing of works.  Though I and my former colleagues are used to being questioned by UK lenders as to why the Registrar (rather than Conservator) would be condition checking a work with them, the full extent of how much Registrar responsibility is allocated to Conservators in this country had never fully sunk in.  I even heard recently of private collectors arranging a house move with a Conservator rather than a Registrar; having them arranging the packing, shipping and relocation into storage is truly baffling to my US senses.  It’s perhaps for this reason that I’m finding less occurrences of contract Registrars working on museum exhibitions, and with private collectors and foundations, whereas it is near standard in the US.
In my now 7 months of direct experience with UK trucking, I can assuredly say that couriers here are blessed with their required overnight stops (as opposed to our 3 day non-stop journeys from California to New York), as well as having lorries driven by members of the company you contracted for the job, not the usual husband and wife (and sometimes dog) teams you get in the US!


I doubt the idea of National collections not insuring their works will ever cease to give me heart palpitations, especially when lending between institutions, and that’s not to mention the concept of “non-national” and “designated collections”.  In the US, all collections are commercially insured, even those we deem our “national” collections.  Our other option - US Indemnity - is a lengthy, arduous process that occurs twice a year for exhibitions, not for temporary deposits or long loans in.  Please be kind to those US Registrars asking you seemingly crazy questions while they work on their applications, because they’re well over 100 pages and I can guarantee that no one enjoys doing them.  I’d take a UK indemnity application in a heartbeat compared to the alternative, though in a similar vein, the UK’s export licenses (for those works not covered by OIEL) are complicated and completed by Registrars, whereas the customs brokers complete these on your behalf in the US.  So perhaps it all balances out in the end!

At the recent UKRG conference in Edinburgh, we listened to a talk about changes in property laws, and I was amazed to hear that the UK didn’t have a procedure in place for deaccessioning portions of collections.  The United States has long standing laws governing museums and their collections, with specific information on deaccessioning (http://www.aam-us.org/resources/assessment-programs/core-documents/documents).  In the past decade, many states have individually addressed the issue of undocumented and abandoned property as well, outlining their requirements for disposing of these works which have long languished in institutions. It is a complicated process – many times involving posting ads in newspapers and strict timelines for attempting to locate owners – but it does exist.
I’m sure I could expound endlessly on my experiences thus far, but in all honesty, I feel I’m only just beginning to understand the intricacies of working in this amazing country.  My friends and colleagues here in the UK love to laugh about some of my American phrases (I apologise now to anyone I’ve confused or bemused by “reaching out” to you via email), but I’m grateful because each time it serves to remind me how even the smallest differences register to a Registrar. One thing I know for sure: the US and UK are better places because of us.


Brandi Pomfret is the owner of Echelon Arts Management and currently a maternity cover Collection Registrar at the National Gallery.

Friday, 2 June 2017

"Fashion and Style at National Museums Scotland: Acquiring Contemporary Fashion", Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: "Fashion and Style at National Museums Scotland: Acquiring Contemporary Fashion", Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland

In the realm of acquisitions most of us are familiar with gifts, bequests, and purchases from dealers or auction houses. When it comes to expanding a collection of modern fashion, there are other, less travelled avenues into which you can delve, each with their own unique challenges and unusual procedures.


The closing talk of the event was given by Georgina Ripley, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Fashion & Textiles, National Museums Scotland. With a collection of international significance and the third largest collection in the UK, expanding the modern part of the museum’s textile and fashion collection has required a more creative approach in the pursuit of new items.

Going directly to designers is one of the ways in which Georgina has sought out new pieces for the collection. Approaching the designers in this way and developing the relationships with them has led to the museum acquiring better pieces, styling them faithfully with the help of the designers for display. Previously they had more access to watered down versions of catwalk pieces, but by heading directly to the designers they have been able to acquire better examples of their work and enhance the collection. However in some cases the museum has missed potential acquisitions because of the difficulties in contacting the designers, competing for their attention during busy periods in the run up to fashion weeks. Knowing that the designers work to schedules six months in advance and understanding when fashion weeks fall can help to ensure you don’t miss out.

One of the acquisition channels that many of us would be familiar with on a personal rather than professional level are websites such as Ebay and Net-a-Porter. For the acquisition of shoes Net-a-Porter has provided an invaluable resource for the museum, yet it has also presented challenges regarding payments and invoicing, as well as use of images. As a large retail brand it has been difficult to find a suitable contact to help resolve these issues, and required a lot of perseverance on the part of the curators. Ebay, despite their deadlines for bids and the risk of being outbid at the very last minute has also provided some key acquisitions. Items can however be hard to authenticate, and with our increasing emphasis on due diligence this can be a concern for registrars.



Whilst these new means of acquiring items for the collection are still being established the museum’s approach has had to be flexible at times, but it has also been important and possible to uphold the practices and procedures that the registrars strive to maintain. With shipments, for example, designers would pack the items as they would for a customer. The museum found a compromise by sourcing a courier company that also works with museums in order to please both parties. As Georgina concluded, it is important not to lose sight of the museum processes and that the registrars become your best friends at this time, guiding you through what can be done to get these items safely into your care.


Francesca Sidhu, Exhibitions Manager, Victoria and Albert Museum

"Legal Title Law Reforms for Museum Property and Financially Motivated Sales", Professor Janet Ulph, School of Law, University of Leicester

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: Legal Title Law Reforms for Museum Property and Financially Motivated Sales
Professor Janet Ulph, School of Law, University of Leicester

Janet has been working with DCMS and the Scottish Government on reforms that could make it easier to establish Legal Title for objects in museum collections. “Orphan” objects with little to no documentation are protected under the Interference with Goods Act 1977. There are legal and ethical risks to museums or galleries if they dispose of objects under Possessory Title.


The Prescription and Title to Moveable Property (Scotland) Bill would allow museums to gain Legal Title if the original owner or successor has not made a claim in a 50 year period and cannot be contacted. This period is important as it complies with the Human Rights Act and does not interfere with an individual’s right to their property or possessions. There is strong support for this bill and it may be amended to include clauses for restitution claims, from Holocaust survivors for example.

There is similar consideration for reform in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the Cultural Collections Bill. A 30 year period may be preferable as it is possible that long-serving members of staff would have some memory of the arrival of the objects or possible contacts.

Janet presented examples of financially motivated disposals to illustrate some of the legal and ethical issues. One case study concerned the sale of Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman by Tower Hamlets. Purchased by London County Council in 1962, the land the statue was on passed to Greater London Council, then Bromley Council, before finally being sold to Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets lent the sculpture to Yorkshire Sculpture Park from 1997 and made the decision to sell in 2012.  Tower Hamlets had not had Legal Title to Draped Seated Woman; that had remained with Bromley Council as the sculpture was not a permanent fixture on the land. The Judge ruled that Legal Title rested with Tower Hamlets after committing a tort of conversion by lending to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Bromley Council had not registered any objections or claims in the six years following the loan, as required under the Limitation Act 1980, and while the sale was not necessarily ethical, it remained legal.


Janet also presented a case study of the attempted sale by Kirklees Council of Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II (valued at £60 million). The original conditions of the acquisition prevented the council from selling; as a gift from the Contemporary Art Society, any attempts at disposal would result in the Council losing ownership.

The MA Code of Ethics does not prohibit disposals entirely, but there are restrictions. The Royal Academy was permitted to sell a Leonardo da Vinci cartoon (The Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Anne) to the National Gallery in 1962 as this kept the work in the public domain and continued to serve long-term public interest. The disposal of the Sekhemka statue by Northampton council in 2014 was not considered to be ethical as it was financially motivated and sold to a private individual outside the UK; Northampton Museum lost its Accredited status in this instance.


Determining Legal and Possessory Title can be more easily resolved if there is supporting documentation. The Prescription and Title to Moveable Property Bill and the Cultural Collections Bill should simplify the process whereby museums and galleries can gain Legal Title over those objects.



Amy Brown, Assistant Registrar, Science Museum

"Acquisitions, exhibitions and getting copyright right", Fredric Saunderson, Intellectual Property Specialist for National Library of Scotland

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: Acquisitions, exhibitions and getting copyright right Fredric Saunderson, Intellectual Property Specialist for National Library of Scotland (NLS)

Fred introduced us to the NLS collection situated in Edinburgh with a new site opening soon in Glasgow. The collection is comprised of c. 40 million items including eg: 5 million books, 8 million manuscripts as well as c.4000 new items entering the collection a day primarily through the legal deposit scheme. His role at NLS manages policy, understanding and communication around copyright for work in their collections.

Firstly Fred discussed how he has developed the NLS website information on copyright in order to be able to communicate more clearly its application to the collection.  The NLS website page on copyright is a fantastic resource: https://www.nls.uk/copyright
He explained that one of the key areas around understanding copyright is in fact the exceptions – such as “fair dealing” where users need to really understand the parameters around the concept of “fair use”.  

Another of the areas he has been working on with NLS teams is the development of procedures and documentation around new acquisitions and deposits. He shared an example of a detailed flow chart which can be used to ascertain what kind of rights can be secured dependant on the nature of the deposit and the rights the Copyright Holder is willing to assign.


Fig 1. Acquisitions copyright process flow chart.
Photograph from Frederic Saunderson presentation at UKRG event 21 April 2017

Fred then discussed some of the ways in which cultural organisations can enable a richer visitor engagement with material, in particular photography in exhibitions, whilst trying to ensure respect of copyright parameters. His approach gave real food for thought – in September 2016 the NLS changed their exhibition visitor photography messaging style from (a) “no photography” (fig 2 on left) to (b) “Photography encouraged” (fig.2 on right). The new poster style steers the visitor to guidance on copyright, placing the responsibility in the visitor’s hands and signalling a change in attitude to address the changing way people engage whilst trying to clarify the boundaries of image use.


Fig 2. Two visitor photography posters –
LEFT: a) Traditional NLS style “No Photography” messaging
RIGHT: b) New NLS “Photography encouraged” poster messaging
Photograph from Frederic Saunderson presentation at UKRG event 21 April 2017

Fred has also been playing around with possible ideas for further simplification of the messaging (shown below in fig 3.) to make the Do’s and Don’ts even easier to quickly grasp (nb: poster not in use, just an ideas document). He also talked around the approach taken in their Reading Rooms where visitors sign up to similar responsibilities and clear information is shared on camera types for safety of the works etc.


Fig 3. Fred’s ideas around possible development of “Photography encouraged” poster
Photograph from Frederic Saunderson presentation at UKRG event 21 April 2017

There were some very interesting questions in the Q&A – for example one question focussed on the risk of lost income generation if photography is allowed and whilst Fred agreed there was a risk he suggested it would be considered low and it was better to police that risk with clear information on copyright and responsibility. However he also empathised that if an institution decided to go down this route that each exhibition might have to be on a case by case basis dependant on content, lender requirements etc in order to honour agreements.


Eloise Stewart, Exhibitions Manager, National Portrait Gallery

"Update on Museums & Galleries Tax Relief", Alison Turnbull, Head of Research & Development, Museums Galleries Scotland and Janice Slater, Head of Collections Management, National Galleries Scotland

UKRG Event: “Kanwe, Acquirem & Howe LLP!”: Museums, acquisitions and the Law
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Friday 21st April 2017

Talk: Update on Museums & Galleries Tax Relief, Alison Turnbull, Head of Research & Development, Museums Galleries Scotland and Janice Slater, Head of Collections Management, National Galleries Scotland

Kicking off the Friday afternoon conference was the rather heavy topic of tax incentives, sometimes referred to as “exhibition tax credit”. My first thought was that I was grateful this was the first session not the last! As the session begun it was delivered in a nice double act by Alison and Janice who were part of a consultancy on this incentive before it was released in April 2017 for parliamentary approval. Essentially, this tax scheme allows museums to claim back a percentage of their core exhibition activity costs from HMRC up to a ceiling of £80,000 for non-touring exhibitions and £100,000 for touring exhibitions.




The tone was light and conversational. The two speakers did a brilliant job of breaking down the rather complex topic, extracting the key paragraphs from the full HMRC document and reading out key areas of phrasing. It was an information-heavy talk, but to be honest, there is no other way to deliver detailed outlines on new schemes. Each section was delivered in bitesize chunks with a succinct and insightful PowerPoint summary.

It quickly became clear that much of the information about this new scheme had been rolled out to Heads of Finance and Directors of institutions, but Alison and Janice made it very clear the importance of the implementers and exhibition organisers having a good awareness and knowledge of this scheme. As registrars our thorough documentation skills are a matter of pride, but there was a useful point about extracting the financial data into a useable and easy format to facilitate the application process for colleagues in other departments.

Much of the session was dedicated to discussing ideas around training and information-sharing events across the registration sector. There was a general consensus that these would be welcomed and people were invited to send ideas of how this could work to both Alison (AlisonT@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk) and Janice (jslater@nationalgalleries.org), as well as general questions about the scheme at this stage. The real engagement and commitment from those involved in the initial consultancy seems second-to-none, and the whole room was interested to be involved in any training.




For museum professionals, once the project is rolled out serious work will begin to make the scheme doable for the widest variety of museums across the sector. Although both the scheme and the potential CPD events are in very early stages it seems this is a great potential tool for increasing the affordability and calibre of shows for a broader range of museums and galleries.

Interestingly, this bill has now been deferred at parliament until after the upcoming general election to allow the major parties to offer comments and discuss amendments. I feel much of the museum sector will be watching with baited breath, but what this means in real terms is that we may not see any benefits from the scheme until 2018. So watch this space….!


Joanne Smith, Tate

Friday, 3 March 2017

Scotland’s Recognition Scheme. Jennifer Youngson, Quality Assurance Manager, Recognition Scheme, Museums and Galleries Scotland


National Galleries for Scotland administers the scheme which gives recognised status to nationally important collections outside of national institutions. Its about celebrating, promoting and investing in the collections to ensure their long term future by increasing awareness, engagement and pride in the collections.



There are currently 47 recognised collections, 18 are local authority collections, 21 are independent, 1 partnership collection and not forgetting the museum collections at Glasgow, Edinburgh and St. Andrews.


The scheme has developed over 13 years from initial feasibility and sector consultation to announcing the first recognised collections 10 years ago and has moved onto review and developing the scheme to ensure its sustainable and can evolve.

Application process
The first step is attending a workshop to find out more about the process at the beginning of the year to assist in making a strong application. The cut off for applications is the end of June.

Each application is very detailed to enable a fair assessment. There is a limit of one box file which sounds a lot but in reality isnt, so its key to provide what the assessment team are looking for and to make it count.

Initially there is a rapid assessment, after which the file is passed to a subject specialist whose knowledge is particularly relevant to that collection. Often they work with specialists across a number of organisations such as the V&A. The final decision is ultimately made by a committee with a range of skills and expertise.

Once a collection achieves recognised status there is a real sense of celebration and strong promoting of the collection with media announcements. There is also the ability to apply for funding, link ups with other recognised collections and a sense of collective advocacy with similar collections.

Recognised collections also get exclusive access to the recognition fund. Its quite unique in the fact the funding is 100% grants with no match funding and also aligns to scheme objectives. Upto £60,000 can be allocated per project that lasts upto 2 years. Although there is two rounds per year it is highly competitive, so to achieve funding is a huge achievement.

Recognised collections are now expected to give annual status reports and demonstrate they are developing, sharing experiences and promoting engagement with their collections. Status reviews happen every 5 years or when there is a significant change to ensure eligibility continues and that the collection develops in line with the scheme objectives.

Key outcomes
There has been over 10,000 research request to access recognised collections 2014-16 (Key evaluation period). In the same period there has been a 10% rise in records of digitally accessible collections and over 2,000 loans from recognised collections every year, a 1/3 of the loans are to institutions outside of the UK.


There is a real sense of collaborative work with subject specialists and learning across the recognised collections. The application process may seem daunting but there is support throughout from the initial workshops through to the final decision. 





By Rachel Coman

Museums in Crisis: A positive outcome for Lancashire Museums? Joanna Hayward, Registrar, Lancashire County Council Museum Service

Budget cuts are something we are all too familiar with hearing about, and Joanna Hayward, the Registrar for Lancashire County Council Museum Service, gave a talk on facing unprecedented cuts and how it affected her role.

Joanna’s talk started by explaining the sites covered by the museum service in Lancashire, a wide range including two castles, mills and an archaeological site as well, meaning their collections covered all disciplines from pre-historic to the modern day.  The service has a collection of over 150,000 objects and works of art, with their textile collections ‘designated’ as of national importance.
 
In 2015 the Council announced that it had to make cuts of £262million, an unprecedented amount, which meant services such as museums could not be afforded.  The council announced in August 2015 that they were to be closing 5 museums to the public on the 31st March 2016; Museum of Lancashire in Preston, the Judges’ Lodgings Museum in Lancaster, Fleetwood Museum, Queen Street Mill Textile Museum in Burnley and the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum in Rossendale.

Understandably there was a public outcry to these proposed closures. Joanna explained the different ways to manage the collections were looked at. Organisations and groups were asked to express interest as a result a stay of execution was put in place during negotiations for six months. 


Unfortunately the aforementioned 5 sites were closed on the 30th September 2016.
To transfer the collections to new owners, an inventory of it in its entirety needed to be conducted. Due to the task faced, everyone was called in to take part, volunteers were relocated and casual staff were trained. To save time, information was recorded at the minimum level, a major difference to before when the documentation level was above SPECTRUM standard.



As is the case in many museums, the service has both loans in and out that needed to be considered during this turbulent time. Lenders and borrowers were kept informed of the situation, these included national and local museums, independent and private lenders. Joanna explained that letters were sent at every stage, letting them know progress and giving them information as soon as it became available. Through the documentation of the collection, it became clear that the list of loans was getting longer than the 115 lenders that were initially thought.


Other legal issues were looked at in the presentation including funding that the service had received and what the terms and conditions contained about closure, as well as objects that had been bequeathed to the service in wills and how the conditions of transfer could be affected by these.
Joanna concluded by explaining where the process was up to now; the service is looking at lending the collections rather than transferring them to new organisations. Although this is something that has been a concern for many institutions and services, it is actually happening to Lancashire’s collections and Joanna put forward that we need to look at different ways of working, become better cultural businesses and more enterprising to keep a bright future for the collections.



By Ruth Clapham, Assistant Registrar, Museum of Science and Industry 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

UKRG Culture Club: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

The Paris Secret by Karen Swan
‘Not every door should be opened’

(Not every book should be opened!)



I was given this book and I thought from the cover it wouldn’t really be my kind of thing, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.  As I suspected, I realised quite soon that the book was a romantic cliché and I was about to give up and put it in the charity bag, when on page 48 I read a reference to  the Art Loss Register.. ‘ It was the absolute first step on this path; nothing could be decided without the feedback from those records’.  ‘Provenance was paramount to explain how it had ended up here’.

Those lines made me sit up, take notice and carry on reading!  Someone was talking my language and the mantra of Registrars across the world.  The story unfolds of a young woman, Flora, who previously worked at Christies, and now works for a private art dealer.  At an exciting multi-million pound auction she receives the news from her employer that they have been asked to deal with a potential art collection sale for the Vermeil family in Paris.  The potential is unknown as the family have only just discovered the property they own exists.  It has remained untouched and closed for over 70 years.  It was last used in 1943 when it was closed up and given to a notary to secretly hold the deeds until certain other family members had died.  One last relative of that era is still alive, but she is aged 99 and refuses to give away any secrets.  The apartment has only come to light because someone has broken into it and made a discovery.

On investigating the apartment Flora discovers 203 paintings, 57 sculptures and 316 artefacts just as they were left lying around the apartment in a jumble in the 1940s.  Of course there weren’t just any old artworks in the newly discovered property; Flora uses her expert knowledge to identify Manet, Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne and Renoir – conveniently.  There follows a lovely process of cataloguing, even a kind of matrix of importance and type is put into use.  The type of collections management project many of my colleagues would delight in undertaking.  There are some twists and turns to keep you interested whilst the audit is undertaken such as the revelation of a duplicate apartment, a broody and moody handsome Vermeil son and even a fight involving a stuffed ostrich.  Who knew working with art collections was such fun?

And the due diligence continues, by page 71 the narrative explains to the reader that ‘..checking if a painting is reported as missing or stolen is ‘the first step in due diligence any time an artwork of this importance re-emerges on the market’

There is a brief discussion about how the uncontrolled environment in the apartment may have affected the art works, but this is soon dismissed with  ‘Obviously humidity would have changed throughout the year as the space wasn’t climate controlled, but all things considered, not a disaster’.  So luckily all the works are in good condition and ready to sell – if only they can just sort out that provenance.

Not surprisingly, once Flora starts digging, the possibility of the art stash being connected to Nazi loot increases.  ‘The resistance flooded the market with good-quality fakes to dupe the Germans as it was.  If we can’t show a step-perfect paper trail, all bets are off. The painting’s authenticity will be thrown into doubt if we go to market saying it was found in an abandoned apartment and clients explain how they came by it’.  So there is a race to prove both that the paintings are not fake and that they weren’t looted or bought from Nazi collaborators.

Depending on your point of view this due diligence chase is the focus of the book, or the development of the feisty romance between Flora and Xavier Vermeil could have been the intended focal point.  *(Spoiler)* Of course he turns out to be a gifted artist in his own right, but hides his talents from the world, of course both Flora and Xavier have unfolding tragedies in their families and of course they argue bitterly, realise they have been mistaken about each other and end the book falling into each other’s arms.  Not before the provenance has been proved I might add. 

Flora correctly proves that the paintings had belonged to Jewish families.  At first she thought Xavier’s late grandfather, who had last used the apartment, was a despicable Nazi collaborator, collecting art from vulnerable Jewish families and then amassing a fortune from their misfortunes.  But then it is revealed that in fact he would buy the paintings and ship them to Switzerland, with a hidden compartment that would hide the children of the Jewish families and get them to safety.  He had been part of The Oeuve de Secours aux Enfants (Children’s Aid Society) a French-Jewish humanitarian movement that worked with The Resistance early in the War. 

Overall, this wasn’t a great read for me, but I did enjoy the seeing aspects of the Registrar’s role being a central part of the novel.   I think this may be the only book that uses due diligence as a plot device to keep the heroine occupied in a location near her interest so that the romance can blossom.  If you like cheesy romantic stories, with some underlying good documentation principles – this is the book for you!

By Lynn Wall
National Museums Scotland