1. How can I place my work(s) in a museum?
Works of art can be placed in a museum through loans (permanent or temporary), sales, gifts or bequests. It is advisable to record the relationship in writing in order to confirm the nature of the relationship (if a loan, the museum is merely a possessor of the art and must return it but if a gift, the museum becomes the owner of the art and must not return it) and to address issues such as shipping, care, conservation and copyright.
Loans are typically arranged either by a gallery in charge of managing the artist’s institutional presence, by artists themselves, or by their estate after their death. In the context of large exhibitions, such as retrospectives, loans can include works already sold to and owned by third parties, with their consent. Importantly, loans do not transfer ownership. This means that the museum does not acquire the title to the works by virtue of the loan. The responsibility for loss or damage to the work, however, must be transferred to the museum for the duration of the loan. Both temporary and permanent loans should be recorded in a written loan agreement.
Museums can also purchase the artist’s work, either through the gallery representing the artist, or directly from the artist or their estate. A museum may express interest either in acquiring an existing work by the artist or commissioning the artist to produce a bespoke work. In both instances, the museum acquires ownership of the work. If a museum wishes to purchase an existing work, the transaction should be recorded in a written sale and purchase agreement. There are two types of commission agreements. In the first, the museum may pay for the creative labour of the artist, materials, and other costs associated with the creation of the commissioned artwork. The artist effectively provides a service, at the end of which the museum also obtains ownership of the artwork. This type of agreement also imposes duties on the artist. The artist may have to obtain approval for his or her designs, allow the museum to inspect the work while in progress, and abide by a deadline for completion. It is therefore essential that the terms of such a contract are carefully and expressly set out and understood by the parties to avoid disputes. In the second and less common type of agreement, the artist simply sells the commissioned work to the museum once it is completed. This is a sale and purchase agreement. It may give greater creative independence to the artist, however the museum is not contractually bound to purchase the work before completion and until a sale and purchase agreement is signed.
Artist or their estates can also choose to donate the artist’s work to a museum. This can be done during an artist’s lifetime, in which case it is referred to as a lifetime gift, or after their death, as a bequest specified in the Will. The estate can also decide to gift works by the deceased artist to a museum. However, it is important to note that this transaction is bilateral. A museum may choose not to accept the offer of a gift or bequest for a variety of reasons. A work may not be a good fit for the museum’s existing collection from a curatorial perspective, or may not comply with its collection policy. It is therefore important that prior to naming a specific museum in a Willill, enquiries are made with the museum on whether the museum would accept the bequest. Many museums will not offer a guarantee of future acceptance but will be able to provisionally assess the suitability of the work for their collection. The tax consequences of gifts or sales to museums are considered below. The Art Fund can also play as a ‘fall-back’ recipient, if the chosen museum is unable to accept a gift. The Art Fund’s Trustees can find a suitable alternative museum to accept the work.