The Challenge of Conserving Art Collections

November 17, 2017

As a Lead Underwriter of the Aspen Institute’s Artist-Endowed Foundation’s Initiative (AEFI), UOVO is proud to provide material support and to share its professional expertise in order to advance AEFI’s mission to strengthen the charitable impact of the artist-endowed foundation field via collegial exchange and information sharing among foundation leaders.

In that spirit, UOVO’s Associate Director of Client Services, Hillary Hummel, joined a panel discussion on Considerations in Practice: Stewardship Challenges in Art Conservation during AEFI’s recent 2017 Artist-Endowed Foundation Leadership Forum at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The session examined factors that are considered by foundations responsible for conservation of artworks in allegiance to their artist’s voice and vision.

Hillary’s remarks drew on her experience working with artist-endowed foundations and artists’ estates, particularly those early in the inception of their organized form, when crucial decisions have to be made that bear directly on conservation matters and priorities. She zeroed in on three broad themes – securing and protecting the collection; organizing and assessing the collection; and allocating resources for collection care in a way that aligns with the artist’s vision and foundation’s mission.

So what are a few key points that an artist-endowed foundation should keep in mind when first facing the challenge of conserving and managing an art collection? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Consolidate and secure the collection. Collections that are not immediately placed in secured storage, or are stored in locations without the proper security systems, can be vulnerable to pilfering.
  • Protect the collection from damage caused by inappropriate storage. Climate control is key, as are systems to protect against natural elements, such as fire and water.
  • Figure out what you have. If thorough records were not kept by the artist’s studio, compiling an inventory is essential. This will also intersect with the appraisal process commissioned by the artist’s executor or trustees.
  • Prepare for future care. When conducting the initial inventory, make sure to note which works require further action, such as repacking, condition assessment, and conservation.
  • Likewise, categorize works based on future needs for access, handling, and long-term and short-term storage.
  • Create a framework for allocation of resources. Funds for collection care are always limited. Establish conservation priorities based on the artist’s vision and the foundation’s mission. How will the artworks be utilized?
  • Finally, be prepared to make hard choices. It is critical to prioritize urgent versus longer-term conservation issues.

And for a deeper dive on evaluating a potential storage facility, ask questions: Is the storage facility vetted by insurance companies? Does it have a pest control program, a natural disaster plan, enclosed loading docks, a secure inventory management system? Does the facility have art handlers on staff trained to museum standards who can pack, transport, store, and install the works? Does the company partner with vetted registrarial, appraisal, and conservation services? Can the facility accommodate the type of art represented in the collection, both its scale and its materials?

For further information, check out this UOVO publication: “Collection Storage and Management: Effective Practices for Artist-Endowed Foundations”.

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