A TFAO Report: Lending Art to Museums for Special Exhibitions


(above:  Peter Alexander Healy,  William Wilson Corcoran, 1884, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.  Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.* Corcoran was the founder of the Corcoran Collection in Washington D.C.)


Motives for lending

Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO) encourages individuals who own important works of art to consider publicly exhibiting single or multiple pieces from their collections. Owners may be heirs of estates of artists or people who have collected over a period of time. A motive for lending a private collection can be to share viewing of the collection with the public in a safe setting with the benefit of professional assistance. Private owners may also wish to add to the monetary value of works in their collections through public exposure. In a September 2006 The Art Newspaper article by Adrian Ellis titled "The Implications of Art Fund Collections Shown in Museums," Mr. Ellis says:

There is, of course, nothing new in museums borrowing from and displaying the works of private collectors. The development of art museums' collections throughout the world can only be understood in the context of the relationship between private collectors and their complex motives on the one hand and museum administrators' desire to harness those motives for the pubic good on the other. Directors, administrators and curators are acutely aware of the symbiotic relationship between public access to works of art that may not otherwise be seen, studied or enjoyed, and the private interest of the collector -- sometimes wholly venal, sometimes wholly altruistic, and usually a deeply conflicted mix of the two.


Centralized databases of private collectors


TFAO has found a United Kingdom organization, Vastari, that maintains a world-wide registry of privately held art available for lending to to museums. As of 2014, however, TFAO has found no registry specific to American art objects contained in private collections for use by museum staff in assembling objects for temporary exhibitions. An inquiry was also made to find a registry devoted to California objects, with negative results. As an alternate to a registry, private collectors may form either a direct relationship with museum staff, councils for museum members, or outside experts so that the museums can become aware of objects in private hands.


Networking to connect collectors with exhibit organizers


Following are steps that can be taken to facilitate borrowing of art works for temporary or long term exhibitions. These steps are of special value to collectors of American representational art who do not employ the services of a private curator. Private curators, also called independent curators, are often well connected in museum circles. A relationship with a private curator may lessen the need for personal networking.

TFAO's Art Museum, Gallery and Art Center index lists in alphabetical order hundreds of US museums that have exhibited representational American art. Also, museums are Indexed by State within the United States. The indexes can be used as a guide to locating potential borrowers for special exhibitions. TFAO lists for each museum articles and essays published by Resource Library. Browsing through the articles and essays for nearby museums, plus reading about upcoming exhibitions being organized by them, give insight as to the likelihood of them seeking to borrow a certain type of art. Collectors can also keep abreast of upcoming exhibitions by following listings in TFAO's National Calendar of Exhibitions. The calendar is a way to find titles of exhibitions that are aligned with individuals' collecting style. Some of the listings in the calendar are for showings at organizing museums while other listings are for showings at renting venues.

Resource Library articles and essays and museums' websites often provide staff names for follow up. When collectors feel that their works might be a fit for upcoming exhibitions, they should identify appropriate staff and discuss their interest. If a piece of art is not needed for a specific upcoming show, staff may ask the collector to provide pictures and other information for future reference.

Museum curators play a key role in selecting art for exhibitions, including art from private collections. Usually, curators are the primary staff members to contact in order to alert museums about lendable art. To learn more about the role of curators, see the staff page of TFAO's Museums Explained. In addition to wishing to give public exposure to privately owned art works, curators and development staff may also desire to strengthen relationships with collectors to lay the groundwork for future gifts of the art works.

A pleasant way to meet people that can lead to referrals to museum staff organizing future exhibitions is to join supporting councils of museums. There are also independent non profits that track upcoming exhibits, provide opportunities to socialize with collectors with shared interests, and have interaction with museums. One independent organization of this type is the Historical Collections Council of California Art. Sometimes members of museum councils and similar organizations are independent curators and museum staff who gain knowledge of works owned by other members and their friends through networking.

Collectors who wish to lend works created by historic artists who lived in parts of the country distant from the collector's locale may find the above strategy of limited help. A second approach is to use TFAO's America's Distinguished Artists, containing biographies of historic artists. Many biographies are by scholars who have in-depth knowledge of select artists. Once scholars are identified, using TFAO's Author Index can help identify other texts written by them which in turn may have supplemental information on how to locate the authors. Networking with these scholars informs them about works they may not be familiar with or lack information as to their whereabouts. Curators seeking works for exhibits often go to these experts for suggestions on where to find desired works. A third approach is to use TFAO's Topics in American Art catalog, which lists Resource Library articles and essays by topic. The topic of an artwork in a collection may be matched with museums exhibiting similar art, collectors lending similar art, and experts for the topic through use of the catalog. Ensuing networking can be rewarding in multiple ways.


Museums and their exhibitions


Museums Explained provides detailed information on the operations of museums. The report covers accreditation and many other topics. Collectors may require that museums be accredited before they consider lending art to them. Some museums organize one-time exhibitions or those they rent to other venues in a tour. Other museums renting a touring exhibition may organize a supplemental exhibition or add pieces from their own collection and/or those of private collectors to the touring exhibition. Some other venues just rent exhibitions and do not add pieces for a local showing.

Since museums plan exhibits months -- and often years -- in advance, studying listings for exhibitions to be held well into the future is recommended. Sometimes museums create catalogues or brochures that list the works in an exhibition. Since catalogues have a substantial lead time for preparation and printing, it may be necessary for a museum to finalize the choice of works in an exhibition a year or more before it is held.

Tours can last for several years. For this reason, collectors need to be comfortable having their works out of their possession for an extended period of time. Even though handlers of art works during tours are usually very careful not to damage art works in their care, long tours do increase the odds of damage. Written loan agreements should cover responsibility for damage and all other aspects of loans. Some insurance and legal advisors recommend that lenders prepare their own loan agreements rather than accepting those prepared by museums. An April 20, 2010 article titled "Lending Art to Museums" by Judith A. Bresler and Stephanie Vaidya of the New York Office of Withers Bergman LLP/Withers LLP says in its introduction:

Those lending works of art to museums should carefully consider the agreements crafted to govern such loans. The savvy lender will ensure that a loan agreement includes not only standard provisions for the location and length of the loan, but also terms tailored to protect the lender from potential liabilities, including risk of loss or damage to the art, its unlawful reproduction and possible exposure to certain taxes. With international loans, such issues, along with securing immunity from seizure, assume a more complex tenor.


Authentication, appraisals and conservation


Before art works are accepted into special exhibitions, they may require authentication. For information, see TFAO's report titled Authentication and Evaluation of Art Objects. TFAO's Appraisals of Original Art Objects provides valuable information on the appraisal process and securing appraisals. An appraisal and condition report is often advised before art is lent. Prior to exhibition works may need to be "conserved," a name for cleaning and repairs. See TFAO's Conservation page for information. To learn about the role of museum conservators, see see the Staff page of Museums Explained. Conservation is often provided by the borrower; in other cases it is the responsibility of the lender.


Lending Checklist


In 2004 The Chubb Corporation issued a news release titled "Chubb Provides Tips For Art Collectors Before Lending Art" containing advice to collectors considering lending art works to museums for special exhibitions. Here is the news release in its entirety:

The theft of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's masterpieces, The Scream and Madonna, from an Oslo museum will lead to greater precaution by museums, cultural institutions and private art collectors lending art overseas, according to the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.
"Many private collectors lend their art because it can increase the value of the object," says Dorit Straus, Chubb's worldwide fine arts manager. "However, safety standards vary by museum and country, and overseas loans can be particularly complicated because of additional transit, customs regulations and foreign laws."
Below are 10 tips from Chubb, a leading insurer of valuable articles such as art, antiques and jewelry, on how collectors can protect themselves against potential losses when lending works of art overseas:
Is the work of art stable to withstand travel? While the curator may want the work of art because it is important to the context of a show, the museum conservator is key in determining the stability of the piece to travel. Ask the conservator to provide a fully detailed condition report before the work has left your possession.
How will your work of art be displayed? Ask about security cases, security screws, location of the objects in relationship to visitor flow, and distance from the viewing public.
Will the museum travel the exhibition, including your work, to other facilities? If so, obtain the same security-related details for every location where your work would be displayed.
Ask the museum for a facility report and for information about its security systems and procedures.
Obtain specific information about the museum's insurance policy. This is especially important overseas, where many state-owned museums, such as the one housing the Munch paintings in Oslo, do not purchase insurance covering theft and other perils. Is the coverage wall-to-wall and would it respond to terrorism-related losses? Which company underwrote the insurance policy, and what is its financial security? Has the museum not addressed certain recommendations made by the insurer, and if so, what impact may that have on coverage if there is a loss?
Is the exhibition insured through the U.S. Indemnity program? This program authorizes the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities to make indemnity agreements with individuals, non-profit, tax-exempt organizations and governmental units for eligible objects from other countries while on exhibition in the United States. Ask for detailed information about the requirements of the program.
Have an updated appraisal completed for your work to establish an accurate current market value. An over valuation will cause the museum to pay for more coverage than it needs. Under valuation will complicate the insurance adjustment process, particularly in the event of a partial loss.
Obtain details on the labeling and identification of your artwork. In addition, make sure that there are no issues about the title or authenticity of your work.
Notify your insurance company, agent, broker prior to lending. Ask their advice prior to waiving any rights of subrogation against the museum, packer or shipper.
Ask about the packing and shipping of your piece from your home to the museum. Will the museum use storage facilities while consolidating the shipments? Obtain full details about fire and burglar protection for the storage location.
Make sure that the loan agreement that you receive from the museum specifies all the requirements that you had negotiated when you agreed to loan your work.
About Chubb The member insurers of the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies form a multi-billion dollar organization providing property and casualty insurance for personal and commercial customers worldwide through 8,000 independent agents and brokers. Chubb's global network includes branches and affiliates in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Australia. The company is noted for its Masterpiece® line of personal insurance products for homes, autos, watercraft and valuable possessions, including antiques, jewelry, fine arts and other collectibles, as well as personal and excess liability protection.

The facilities report referenced in the Chubb article is a standard facilities report. The American Alliance of Museums Standard Facility Report (ISBN 0-931201-55-1) is often preferred. The blank template for this document may be purchased from the AAM Bookstore (202-289-9127) or through the AAM website. It details the facility's environmental, safety, security, staffing, storage, and exhibition space capabilities and acceptable insurance coverage, specifically naming the lender as an additional insured. The AAM website contains

The Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program: International Indemnity page from the National Endowment for the Arts web site explains the program. The Introduction says:

Non-profit museums and organizations planning temporary exhibitions that involve bringing works of art and artifacts from abroad to the United States or sending works of art from this country abroad may be eligible for International Indemnity coverage. Details appear below.
The indemnity agreement is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. In the event of loss or damage to an indemnified object, the Federal Council must certify the validity of the claim and request Congress to authorize payment.


The company your art keeps


There's an old saying "you are known by the company you keep." The saying can be applied to art. Collectors should think carefully about which museums will exhibit their art. Unwise choices can make it more difficult to exhibit their art at some museums in the future and may impair a trajectory of increase in monetary value. Just because a museum makes an borrowing invitation doesn't mean the offer must be accepted.

Then there's the risk of art falling into the company of the worse kind: burglars. Once a collector is identified in a credit line, risk increases for attempted theft. Many collectors forgo having their name in the credit line for their exhibited artwork and settle for "private collection."


Further information


TFAO's Planning, Organizing and Touring Art Exhibitions explains how museums and other organizations make exhibitions a reality.

Michael Reid's book How to Buy and Sell Art advises collectors that long term loans of their works to museums can reduce the cost of their home insurance premium when museums agree to insure the works while in their custody. he adds: "Similarly, a long term loan to an established art museum would greatly reduce the security risks and costs, not to mention the burden of appropriate storage."

The Columbia University Libraries created a web page titled "Guidelines for Lending Materials for Exhibition" to explain what is needed to enable the institution to lend its property for exhibition. As an individual collector, substitute yourself in place of Columbia University Libraries to obtain ideas on how to respond to requests for loans from museums.

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