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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. Our vision statement is: From its base in Sydney, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is dedicated to serving the widest possible audience as a centre of excellence for the collection, preservation, documentation, interpretation and display of Australian and international art, and a forum for scholarship, art education and the exchange of ideas.

The Gallery and its functions are determined by the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980. The principal objects of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust, outlined in section 7 of the Act, are to develop and maintain a collection of works of art and to propagate and increase the knowledge and appreciation of art. With particular emphasis given to the visual art of Australia and Asian or Pacific countries, the development of the collection is essential to ensure that the Gallery remains a vibrant museum.

The 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 to enhances and develop 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
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 by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist or 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 undertaken that formally acknowledges an artwork to be part of the collection.
  • Acquisition means the process of obtaining valid title to an artwork, in accordance with the Art Acquisitions Policy.
  • Acquisitions and Loans Committee means the Board of Trustees sub-committee established to review and confirm the acquisition of artworks and the deaccessioning of artworks from the collection, as well as reviewing and approving requests for outgoing loans and long-term incoming loans from the collection in accordance with the Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust – Acquisitions and Loans Committee Charter. Members of the committee are appointed by the Board of Trustees’ president.
  • Acquisition proposal means a document that details information about an artwork proposed for acquisition. The proposal will detail the known provenance of the work and will identify substantial costs, both direct and indirect, and the potential funding source in the case of works acquired through purchase.
  • 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.
  • Director delegation means the director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ delegated authority to approve acquisitions within established delegation limits, as set out in the schedule of approved director’s delegations attached to this policy.
  • 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 National Art Archive and study collection.
    1. National Art Archive collection means the sum of the institutional archive and the collected archives held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
    2. 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.

  • 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 Art Gallery of New South Wales.
  • Due diligence means the thorough assessment of an artwork to evaluate its authenticity, ownership and provenance and to identify and assess any gaps in the provenance.
  • Flying minute means a resolution made by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee outside the scheduled meeting cycle.
  • Gallery means the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
  • 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.
  • Title means the legal right to ownership of property.
  • Trustee means a member of the Board of Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

6. Policy

6.1 Principles

The development of the collection is essential to ensure the Gallery remains a vibrant and active 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 reputation for collecting excellence in the public and the museum community, both nationally and internationally. In developing its collection, the Gallery will make every effort to ensure that it acquires artworks with valid title and 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 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 International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Ethics, Museums Australia Code of Ethics and the Australian Best Practice Guide to Collecting Cultural Material.

6.2 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, the 20th and 21st centuries. The Gallery will continue to acquire Australian art of all periods and in various media, with an emphasis on highly significant works that enhance our 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. Achieving a more comprehensive collection of work by women artists remains a key objective. Diversity will also be a priority.

The Gallery has a distinguished collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. 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 our 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 art works. 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 of art from the past and present from throughout Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe, and North and South America. The Gallery will continue to acquire international art that enhances our current holdings, reflects the vitality of contemporary practice, and enriches the Gallery’s collection displays and temporary exhibitions. While exceptional historic and modern works may become available rarely, the Gallery is also dedicated 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 spanning the 18th–20th centuries, with some outstanding individual examples of European art in various media. The Gallery is committed, as opportunities arise, to acquiring works of stature which enrich and enlarge the scope of the historical European collection.

The Gallery has fine holdings of art from Asia with particularly strong collections of Chinese and Japanese art. The Gallery aims to augment these by acquiring exceptional examples of historical art from both China and Japan as well as Korea. At the same time, the smaller South-East Asian, South Asian and Southwest Asian collections will continue to be developed with acquisitions of the highest calibre. These historical acquisitions will be complemented by contemporary acquisitions reflecting the complexity, vitality and diversity of Asian art today.

The Gallery will add to its small but significant collection of Pacific art through contemporary and select historical acquisitions that will encompass the diversity of artforms prevalent in the region, including Aotearoa New Zealand, and the Pacific diaspora in Australia. In combination with and in addition to this priority, the Gallery will pursue select works of importance by international Indigenous artists that will reveal the range, vitality and relevance of Indigenous practice and knowledge around the world.

The collection of recent international art, which has great strengths in work of all mediums from the 1960s onwards, will be enriched with ambitious acquisitions expressing the complexity and energy of art today. As well as continuing to represent major artists, movements and themes, and develop existing collection strengths such as photography and contemporary installation art, select new acquisitions will also point to alternative and ‘outlier’ histories. The traditionally European and North American focus of the international contemporary collection will be enriched with perspectives including those of Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and Latin America.

The Gallery will continue to achieve a more balanced representation of women artists in the international collection, a priority being the acquisition of major works by modernist women artists. A small but growing collection of international ceramic art will be enriched, alongside the collection of contemporary Australian ceramic art, with select acquisitions of the highest calibre.

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 collection area curator will carry out thorough research before proposing the work for acquisition, in accordance with established Provenance and Due Diligence Research Procedures as outlined in the Provenance and Due Diligence Research Policy.

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
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 or sold other than copyright. In extraordinary circumstances, exceptions may be made by the Board of Trustees, on recommendation of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee.

6.3.4 Managing ethical issues associated with acquisitions

The Gallery will take into consideration ethical issues associated with acquisitions and will highlight more serious cases to be discussed with the Board of Trustees.

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 the donor reserves any power of control or revocation. Should the Gallery choose 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. The deed provides the Gallery with a range of warranties and indemnities and affirms the agreement of both or all parties to the transfer and acceptance of title and possession of the artwork. If 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, the intended transfer of title and property will be formalised with the completion of an agreement between the donor/s and the Gallery outlining the terms of the promised gift. Title in the artwork is retained 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.

Except 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
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. Details of past price history 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.

Except 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
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, 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 public 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 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 approval process is as follows:

  • Submissions are initially presented by the head curators to the deputy director and then discussed at a preliminary acquisitions and loans meeting attended by the director, deputy director and head curators at which decisions are minuted
  • Approved submissions are then signed by the director, deputy director and respective head curator with no one person approving in more than one capacity (the deputy director may sign for the director when acting in that role and the alternative head curator may sign in the absence of other signatories where there is no conflict of interest).
  • Artworks that are above director delegations are presented to the Acquisitions and Loans Committee for review and works that are below director delegations are preseted for noting.
  • A summary of all acquisitions proposals is given to the Board of Trustees for ratifying and for the purpose of accession.

The director has delegated authority to approve acquisitions within established delegation limits, as set out in the schedule of approved director’s delegations attached to this policy. A summary of works acquired under the director’s delegation will be submitted to the subsequent scheduled Acquisitions and Loans Committee meeting for noting and for purposes of accessioning only.

All proposed acquisitions with a purchase price over the director’s delegation must be presented to the Acquisitions and Loans Committee for ratification by the Board of Trustees. Acquisition of an artwork offered for sale at auction with a price over the director’s delegation may be approved by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee subject to endorsement by the president of the Board of Trustees 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 at the subsequent scheduled Acquisitions and Loans Committee meeting. Whilst circulated to the whole Acquisitions and Loans Committee, Flying Minutes can be approved by a regular Committee Quorum and with the President of the Board of Trustees approval.

All members of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee have full voting rights. A quorum for a meeting of the Committee is a majority consisting of non-gallery executive representation and one gallery executive representative member.

All acquisitions will be considered on their merit, taking into account the principles and terms of this policy and the details outlined in the acquisition proposal.

The decisions of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee will be minuted and ratified by the Board of Trustees at their subsequent meeting and a summary listing of works acquired by director’s delegation or at auction will be noted for accession purposes.

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 his/her 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 on-line auction houses and entities.

For acquisition by commission, the Gallery employs a template commission of sale. Title passes in accordance with the terms of the agreement of sale.

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 for accession.

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 acquired under this clause.

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 Gallery’s 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 Acquisitions and Loans Committee on a regular basis (every three years) in accordance with the Gallery’s audit program and then endorsed by the Board of Trustees.

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. Responsibilities and compliance

7.1 Board of Trustees and Acquisitions and Loans Committee

The Board of Trustees is responsible for approving art acquisitions, either directly or by delegation to the director, subject to cases where ministerial approval is required, such as in the case of deaccessions.

The Acquisitions and Loans Committee is responsible for monitoring and reviewing all aspects of the acquisition and loans processes of the Gallery and making recommendations to the Board of Trustees in this regard.

7.2 Executive and staff

The director and deputy director are responsible for ensuring that the processes and documentation relating to acquisitions conform to all policies and that Gallery staff understand and comply with the policies.

8. Related documents, legislation and useful links

8.1. Gallery policies

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy
  • Collections Management Policy
  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Fraud Control Policy
  • Gifts and Benefits Policy
  • Provenance and Due Diligence Research Policy
  • Record Keeping Policy
  • Deaccession and Disposal Policy

8.2 Guidelines, procedures and associated documents

8.2.1 Gallery guidelines, procedures and associated documents

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

8.2.2 National and international guidelines, procedures and associated documents

8.3 Legislation

8.3.1 Commonwealth of Australia

  • 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 2018
  • Biosecurity Act 2015
  • Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

8.3.2 New South Wales

  • Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980
  • Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009
  • Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998
  • Public Finance and Audit Act 1983. Parts that remain from this legislation to be renamed Government Sector Audit Act 1983
  • Public Finance and Audit Regulation 2015
  • Government Sector Finance Act 2018
  • 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.