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Art acquisitions policy

1. Summary

Established in 1871, the Gallery’s collection is rich and varied, encompassing Australian and international art. The Gallery and its functions are determined by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980. As outlined in section 7 of the Act, the principal objectives are to develop and maintain a collection of works of art and to propagate and increase knowledge and appreciation of art. Giving particular emphasis to the visual art of Australia and Asian and Pacific countries, the development and enhancement of the collection is essential to ensure that the Gallery remains a vibrant, living museum.

Acquisition and accessioning of works of art is conducted in accordance with the powers afforded to the Gallery under the Act and this occurs within an accepted approval and management framework. The Gallery acquires works of art by various methods and is committed to ensuring that all acquisitions are negotiated and managed on terms that are ethical, honourable, responsible and transparent to public scrutiny. This policy sets out the principles the Gallery will adopt and factors it will consider when acquiring works of art for the collection.

2. Authority

This policy is established by the Director and approved by the Board of Trustees pursuant to the Act.

3. Objective

The objectives of this policy are to ensure that:

a. the Gallery advances its mission and enhances and develops the collection;

b. the Gallery applies rigorous, ethical and accountable standards in the consideration, assessment and negotiation of acquisitions;

c. acquisitions to the collection are considered and approved in accordance with established delegated authority;

d. the Gallery maintains its standing and reputation for integrity and excellence in the public and the museum community, both nationally and internationally.

These objectives are to be achieved by ensuring that the Gallery:

a. acquires works of art that fit within the Gallery’s collecting priority areas;

b. obtains valid title to works acquired for the collection; and

c. avoids any act or omission that may compromise the Gallery’s position and reputation for integrity in public administration.

4. Application

This policy applies to all activities relating to the acquisition and accessioning of works of art to the collection.

5. Definitions

In this policy:

  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander art means artwork:
    a. by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist; or
    b. containing Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander themes or content.
    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is defined in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy.
  • Accession means the process which formally acknowledges an artwork as part of the collection.
  • Acquisition means the process of obtaining valid title to an artwork. Works may be acquired through various methods for the purpose of accessioning into the collection or acquisition without accessioning for purposes outlined in this policy.
  • Acquisitions and Loans Committee means the Board of Trustees sub-committee established to review and confirm the acquisition to and deaccessioning of artworks from the collection, as well as reviewing and approving requests for outgoing loans from the collection in accordance with the AGNSW Trust – Acquisitions and Loans Committee Charter.
  • Acquisition proposal means a document that details information about an artwork proposed for acquisition and outlines considerations in assessing the acquisition. The proposal will detail the known provenance of the work and will identify all costs, both direct and indirect, and in the case of works acquired through purchase, the potential funding source.
  • Act means the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980.
  • Agreement of sale means a formal, legally binding written contract which outlines the rights, obligations and undertakings of the buyer and seller and outlines the terms and conditions of the sale and the transfer of both property and title.
  • Collection means works of art in various media that are Gallery property and have been formally accessioned. The collection also includes other material acquired and accessioned by the Gallery for the purpose of research and enhancement of the collection, including the study collection. For the purposes of this policy, the terms ‘artwork’, ‘work of art’, ‘work’ and related terms are used interchangeably to describe all art or other material acquired into the collection. In this policy, the collection does not include the archive collection.
  • Deed of gift means a formal, legally binding document that establishes that title to an artwork is given to the Gallery as a gift by the donor(s). The deed of gift also outlines the terms and conditions of the gift and its acceptance.
  • Director means the Director of the Gallery appointed under the Act and includes a person appointed as acting Director.
  • Due diligence means the thorough assessment of an artwork to evaluate its authenticity, ownership and provenance and to identify and assess any gaps.
  • Flying minute means a resolution made by the Board of Trustees or its sub-committees outside the scheduled meeting cycle.
  • Gallery means the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust, a statutory corporation established in accordance with the Act.
  • Provenance means the history and ownership of an item from the time of its discovery or creation to the present day, from which authenticity and ownership is determined.
  • Study collection comprises works of art designated for the purpose of study or research that support or relate to works of art or artists in the collection. The study collection is a sub-category of the collection and works are accessioned.
  • Title means the legal right to ownership of property.
  • Trustee means a member of the Board of Trustees appointed in accordance with the Act.

6. Policy

6.1 Principles

The development of the collection is essential to ensure the Gallery remains a vibrant and living museum. The Gallery acquires artworks that fit within identified collecting areas and works are selected on the basis of the significance of the artist and/or the specific quality of the artwork.

The Gallery will ensure that all acquisitions are negotiated and managed on terms that are ethical, honourable, responsible and visible to public scrutiny and will maintain the Gallery’s standing and reputation for collecting excellence in the public and the museum community, both nationally and internationally. In developing its collection, the Gallery will seek to ensure that it acquires artworks with valid title, established provenance and that are authentic and have not been identified as having been looted or illegally obtained or exported.

The Gallery recognises the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 and acknowledges that Australia is a signatory to the Convention. The Gallery also recognises and is bound by the terms of the Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 and is guided by the ICOM Code of Ethics, Museums Australia Code of Ethics and the Australian Best Practice Guide to Collecting Cultural Material.

6.2 Considerations in collecting – collecting priorities

The Gallery aims to acquire an ambitious range of works of art that enhance and develop the existing collection of Australian and international art. The Gallery will continue its program of acquiring major works of art based on the following collecting priorities, in accordance with the Act.

6.2.1 Australian art (including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art)

The Gallery has an outstanding collection of Australian art, with great strengths in the art of the late 19th century and 20th century. The Gallery will continue to acquire Australian art of all periods and in various media, with an emphasis on highly significant works that enhance its current holdings or fill gaps in the collection. Exceptional historic and modern art only rarely becomes available and the Gallery is committed to vigorously pursuing such priority works.

The Gallery has a distinguished collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. The exceptional early acquisitions continue to be built on by acquiring the finest recent works from across Australia. Central to this is the acquisition of major works by key artists to ensure the Gallery has a significant body of work by individual practitioners, as well as representing identified centres of artistic excellence. Acquiring significant earlier works to enhance its holdings and fill gaps in the collection is also a priority. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art is one of the most vital areas of contemporary Australian art practice and building an exceptional collection in this field is central to the development of the broader Australian collection.

The Gallery’s commitment to contemporary culture is demonstrated by the depth and breadth of the contemporary Australian collection. The Gallery represents key art movements, thematic concerns and the work of individual artists through the acquisition of significant representative artworks. Contemporary art is the fastest growing area of the Australian collection, reflecting the energy and quality of contemporary art practice. Demonstrable support of living culture through collecting is essential to the Gallery’s role as a leading art museum.

6.2.2 International art

The international collection includes important works from the past and present, in various media, from throughout Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and North and South America. The Gallery will continue to acquire international art from specific periods and appropriate media that enhances its current holdings. While exceptional historic and modern works may become available rarely, the Gallery is committed to vigorously pursuing such works.

The Gallery holds a significant collection of European art from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century. Great strengths are to be found in British art of the 18th-20th centuries, with some outstanding individual examples of European art in various media (painting, sculpture, photography, watercolours, drawings, prints and decorative arts). The Gallery is committed to enhancing these collections as opportunities arise, with emphasis on works of international stature.

The Gallery has fine holdings from across the Asian region with particularly strong collections of Chinese and Japanese art. The Gallery aims to augment these by acquiring fine examples of historical art from both China and Japan. At the same time, the smaller South-East Asian and South Asian collections will continue to be developed with acquisitions of the highest calibre.

The Gallery will add to its small but significant collection of Pacific art through acquisitions that will encompass the diversity of art forms prevalent in the region, as well as the Pacific diaspora in Australia. New acquisitions will relate directly to the collection, engage with contemporary issues and embrace historical, transitional and contemporary art forms and media.

The collection of recent international art, which has great strengths in work from the 1960s onwards, will be enhanced and developed. The international collection represents major artists, art movements and thematic concerns. These will be added to with significant acquisitions across a wide range of media. A priority will be developing a stronger contemporary Asian and Pacific collection, including the art of New Zealand, and a stronger collection of modern and contemporary women artists.

6.2.3 Study collection

The study collection includes works of art designated for the purpose of research and reference that support or relate to works of art or artists in the collection. The study collection also incorporates works of art that are, for other reasons, of value to the Gallery for the purpose of study.

6.3 Other considerations in collecting

6.3.1 Provenance

When considering acquiring a work for the collection, the Gallery will practise and be prepared to show that it has practised, the highest standards of due diligence. As a general principle, the Gallery will not acquire an artwork through any means or methods, unless it can acquire valid title. To establish the provenance of an artwork and the veracity of title, the relevant curator will carry out thorough research before proposing the work for acquisition in accordance with established Provenance and Due Diligence Research Procedures.

6.3.2 Condition and care

The Gallery will consider the factors that may impact on the condition, care and preservation of the artwork prior to its acquisition, including any issues or costs in relation to:

a. the current condition and/or long-term care of the artwork;

b. the storage and movement of the artwork, including but not limited to long-term storage issues and costs and workplace health and safety issues; and

c. documentation, display and loan.

6.3.3 Conditional acquisitions

As a general rule, the Gallery does not accept acquisitions that carry restrictions or conditions. Donors and sellers of works of art will relinquish all available rights to the work donated other than copyright. In extraordinary circumstances, exceptions may be made by the Board of Trustees, on recommendation of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee.

6.4 Methods of acquisition

6.4.1 Gift

6.4.1A Outright gift

Any donation of work by a living individual or individuals, or an institution or organisation is considered a gift.

To make a valid gift, there must be a clear intention on the part of the donor to transfer title and possession of the work and clear intent on the part of the Gallery to accept the gift for the purpose of accession into the collection. The transfer of both possession and title shall be absolute and unencumbered. As a general rule, the Gallery will not accept or recognise a gift where there is reserve to the donor of any power of control or revocation. In exceptional circumstances in which the Gallery elects to accept an encumbered or restricted gift, the basis of this decision will be minuted by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee and approved by the Board of Trustees.

The donor is required to sign a deed of gift, evidencing full transfer of title and possession, providing the Gallery with a range of warranties and indemnities and affirming the agreement of both or all parties to the transfer and acceptance of title and possession of the artwork. In the event that the Gallery elects to accept a gift with encumbrances or restrictions, such matters will be documented as variations to the deed of gift.

6.4.1B Promised gift

A donor may promise a gift to the Gallery during their lifetime. A promised gift is a commitment by the donor to give a work to the Gallery wherein part or all of the receipt of the gift is deferred until an agreed date(s) in the future.

After approval of the promised gift in accordance with the approval processes outlined in this policy, the intended transfer of title and property will be formalised with the completion by the donor and the Gallery of an agreement outlining the terms of the promised gift. Title is retained in the artwork by the donor until such time as the gift is realised. The donor may retain physical possession of the work until the gift is realised or may enter into loan arrangements with the Gallery.

Unless in exceptional circumstances, the Gallery will only realise the promised gift after possession of the artwork has transferred to the Gallery in order to ensure that:

a. the work is complete and all components or parts have been received; and

b. the work is in an acceptable condition, consistent with the condition understood at the time the acquisition agreement was entered into.

Should the artwork not be in an acceptable condition, or in the event that other factors relating to the authenticity, provenance or attribution of the work are not as understood at the time the agreement was entered into, the Gallery reserves the right to not proceed with acquiring the work.

6.4.2 Purchase

Artworks may be purchased for the purpose of accession into the collection by any of the methods set out in this clause, in accordance with the approval processes outlined in this policy. Details of past price history where available and purchase price negotiations including parties to the transaction will be documented in the acquisition proposal.

6.4.2A Purchase from dealers, commercial galleries, shops, private individuals and companies

Although warranty of title is implied in the sale of goods, an agreement of sale will be entered into. The agreement of sale stipulates the warranties and undertakings the seller gives in relation to the title and authenticity of the work which they are selling free from restrictions, lien or encumbrances.

Unless in exceptional circumstances, the Gallery will pay for purchases after the artwork has been received and agreement of sale completed by both parties in order to ensure that:

a. the correct work has been received;

b. the work is complete and all components or parts have been received; and

c. the work is in an acceptable condition, consistent with the condition understood at the time the agreement to purchase was entered into.

In circumstances where part- or full-payment is required in order to secure the transfer of possession of the work, in accordance with this policy, acquisition approval must be obtained and the agreement of sale must be completed and approved by all parties prior to the payment being made.

6.4.2B Purchase at auction

Artworks may be purchased at auction and in such instances, purchases are made on the auction house’s terms and are not formalised through an agreement of sale. The auction house’s terms of sale must be evaluated for warranty of title and authenticity in accordance with this policy and established Provenance and Due Diligence Research Procedures.

6.4.3 Bequest

All, some or none of the artwork(s) offered to the Gallery by bequest may be accepted for the purpose of accession into the collection or, in accordance with the conditions of the bequest, works may be acquired as property to be disposed of to benefit the collection.
For accepted bequests, a copy of the will, codicils and any other related documentation will be retained as part of the Gallery’s records.

6.4.4 Commission

The Gallery may acquire artworks by contracting an artist to produce a work for the collection. The terms and conditions of the commission will be stipulated in the commissioning contract.

6.4.5 Other processes for acquisition

6.4.5A Joint ownership

The Gallery recognises the potential benefits of joint ownership arrangements. The Gallery may undertake to jointly acquire an artwork with another collecting institution for accession into the collection. Any transactions involving binding terms for permanent joint ownership must be reviewed and approved by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee. Binding terms must ensure conditions for shared possession, preservation and conservation, storage conditions, display, outward loan, freight packing and handling and other considerations for collection management and access are agreed.

6.4.5B Other

Other forms of acquisition may be considered by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee from time to time and on a case-by-case basis. Any consideration of other forms of acquisition will be undertaken with reference to the principles of this policy.

6.5 Approval of acquisitions

Acquisitions to the collection are approved by the Board of Trustees or their delegate.
The Director has delegated authority to approve acquisitions within established delegation limits. A summary of works acquired under the Director’s delegation will be submitted to the subsequent scheduled Acquisitions and Loans Committee meeting for information.

All proposed acquisitions with a purchase price over the Director’s delegation must be presented to the Acquisitions and Loans Committee for endorsement. Acquisition of an artwork offered for sale at auction with a price over the Director’s delegation may be endorsed by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee either at a scheduled meeting or by means of a flying minute outside the standard meeting cycle. Artworks acquired at auction and endorsed by flying minute will be re-presented for noting to the subsequent scheduled Acquisitions and Loans Committee meeting.

All acquisitions will be considered on their merit, taking into account the principles and terms of this policy and the details of the proposed acquisition outlined in the acquisition proposal. Acquisition proposals are prepared by the relevant curator. Prior to consideration by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee, acquisition proposals are approved by the relevant Head Curator, the Deputy Director and Director.

The decisions of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee, including summary listings of works acquired by Director’s delegation or at auction will be minuted and ratified by the Board of Trustees at their subsequent meeting.

6.6 Acquisition and accession into the collection

The Gallery employs a template deed of gift. As a rule, title in a gift passes when the deed of gift is executed by the donor. Exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis and approved by the Director or her/his delegate.

The Gallery employs a template agreement of sale. In the case of acquisition by purchase (other than purchases at auction), title passes in accordance with the terms of the agreement of sale.

For works purchased at auction, title passes in accordance with the terms and conditions of sale established by individual auction houses, including online auction houses and entities.

For acquisition by commission, title passes when the parties intend it to pass, as agreed and documented in the commissioning contract.

Irrespective of the method of acquisition, the date of accession into the collection is the date of the Board of Trustees meeting at which the acquisition is formally approved.

6.7 Acquisition for purposes other than accession into the collection

As a general rule, the Gallery will not acquire artworks for purposes other than accession into the collection. However, artworks may be acquired and not accessioned into the collection in circumstances where the conditions of a bequest allow the Gallery to acquire title and dispose of all or some of the bequested works.

Any proceeds arising from the disposal of artworks in this manner will be used solely for the acquisition of works of art for the collection. The original source of the bequest will be credited in relation to any subsequent purchases arising from the proceeds of such disposal.

The Board of Trustees will be advised of any works of art acquired for purposes other than accession into the collection.

6.8 Transparency and accountability

6.8.1 Publication of acquisitions

The Director will ensure that a list of all acquisitions approved in the financial year is published in the Annual Report.

Unless otherwise restricted in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy, other policies or legal obligations, the Gallery will make provenance information about new acquisitions and, to the greatest extent possible, the existing collection, accessible to the public on the Gallery’s website.

6.8.2 Record keeping

In accordance with the Record Keeping Policy and established procedures, staff will maintain records (paper based and/or electronic) for each new acquisition, including proposed acquisitions that are not approved, documenting relevant information and decision making.

6.8.3 Internal audit and review cycle

The Director will ensure that compliance with this policy is assessed as part of the Gallery’s audit program. The policy will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees on a regular basis in accordance with the Gallery’s audit program.

6.8.4 Conflicts of interest – staff and Trustees

Members of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee should declare any conflict of interest and this conflict should be actively managed. Gallery staff involved in the acquisition process and members of the Board of Trustees and the Acquisitions and Loans Committee must declare any conflict of interest in an acquisition. The declared conflict will be minuted by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee. Staff, Trustees and committee members must exclude themselves from any discussion or decision by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee and/or Board of Trustees in relation to an acquisition in which they have an interest and this will be minuted.

Gallery staff involved in the acquisition of artworks are bound by the Gallery’s Code of Conduct and other relevant Gallery policies, including but not limited to the Conflict of Interest Policy, Gifts and Benefits Policy, Fraud Control Policy and Record Keeping Policy.

7. Related documents, legislation and useful links

7.1 Gallery policies

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy
  • Collection Management Policy (in development)
  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Donations and Bequests Policy
  • Fraud Control Policy
  • Gifts and Benefits Policy
  • Provenance and Due Diligence Research Policy
  • Record Keeping Policy

7.2 Guidelines, procedures and associated documents

7.2.1 Gallery guidelines, procedures and associated documents

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Procedures
  • Acquisitions and Loans Committee Charter
  • Art Acquisition Procedures
  • Code of Conduct
  • Code of Conduct for Board of Trustees
  • Provenance and Due Diligence Research Procedures
  • Risk Management – Statement of Intent

7.2.2 National and international guidelines, procedures and associated documents

7.3 Legislation

7.3.1 Commonwealth

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984
  • Customs Act 1901
  • Income Tax Assessment Act 1997
  • Personal Properties Securities Act 2009
  • Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986
  • Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Regulation 1987
  • Quarantine Act 1908
  • Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982

7.3.2 New South Wales

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980
  • Freedom of Information Act 1989
  • Government Information Public Access Act 2009
  • Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998
  • Public Finance and Audit Act 1983
  • Public Finance and Audit Regulation 2010
  • Public Authorities (Financial Arrangements) Act 1987
  • Sale of Goods Act 1923
  • State Records Act 1998
  • Uncollected Goods Act 1995

This policy is also informed by the traditions and precedent set since the establishment of the Gallery.

Effective 9 December 2015