We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of New South Wales stands.

De-accessioning policy and procedures for works of art in the collection

1. Summary

The Art Gallery of New South Wales developed out of the New South Wales Academy of Art, established in Sydney on 24 April 1871. It was firmly founded on 19th-century ideals of public education and cultural enrichment. Today the Gallery has a rich and varied collection, encompassing Australian and international art. 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. 

As part of the strategic development and management of the collection, the Gallery may choose to refine the collection through the deaccession and disposal of works of art that no longer positively contribute to the collection. When considering the deaccessioning of any work of art, the Gallery will proceed with great care. Deaccession and disposal of a work from the collection occurs within an accepted framework to ensure compliance with statutory, legal and ethical considerations and in accordance with collection priorities. This policy sets out the principles the Gallery will adopt and  establishes a framework for the deaccession and disposal of works from the collection that is in accordance with the statutory requirements of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980 and serves the best interests of present and future generations. 

2. Authority

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

3. Objectives

The objectives of this policy are to ensure that:

  • the Gallery advances its mission, including to enhance and develop the collection

  • the Gallery applies rigorous, ethical and accountable standards in the consideration, assessment and selection of items to be deaccessioned from the collection

  • deaccession and disposal from the collection is approved and formalised in accordance with established authority and statutory requirements

  • the Gallery maintains its standing and reputation for integrity and excellence with the general public and the museum community, both nationally and internationally.   

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

  • identifies and approves works for deaccessioning in accordance with professional, ethical and legal considerations 

  • disposes of works in a manner that is ethical, legal, respectful, collegiate and transparent 

  • 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 deaccession and disposal of works of art from the collection. This policy applies to works of art in the collection acquired in accordance with the Art Acquisitions Policy, and uncollected property in the custody of the Gallery. 

5. Definitions

In this 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.

  • 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. 

    • National Art Archive collection means the sum of the institutional archive and the collected archives held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

    • 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.

  • Deaccession means the permanent removal of a work of art from the collection. 

  • Deaccession proposal means a document that details information about an artwork proposed for deaccessioning, including known provenance, the grounds for deaccessioning and the proposed method of disposal. 

  • Director means the director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

  • Disposal means the process by which the Gallery effects the removal of a work from the collection, and may include the transfer of title in works deaccessioned from the collection to another party. Methods of disposal outlined in the Act are exchange, gift, sale or disposal.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Restitution is the restoration to its rightful owner of something that was unjustly taken.

  • Setting aside period means the period of consideration required before the deaccession of a work can be confirmed and effected. The length of the setting aside period will be defined in the Deaccession and Disposal Policy.

  • 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 museum. The Gallery accepts the deaccessioning of works of art as a legitimate collection stewardship activity, the use of which is endorsed and informed by the International Council of Museums Code of Ethics and Museums Australia Code of Ethics. The Gallery regards careful and considered deaccessioning as an appropriate means of advancing the mission of the Gallery by strategically managing the collection.

Deaccessioning must conform to the terms of the Act. Deaccessioning may only occur in accordance with sections 9 and 10 of the Art Gallery of NSW Act when retention of a work has been determined as not required for the purposes of the Gallery by the Board of Trustees. Works acquired into the collection by the Gallery in accordance with the Act and the Art Acquisitions Policy must pass through the process of deaccessioning before disposal can lawfully occur. 

6.2 Criteria for deaccessioning

A work of art in the collection may be considered for deaccessioning when it meets one or more of the following criteria:

a. the work is no longer of a standard suitable for inclusion in the holdings of a major public art museum

b. other, more significant examples have been acquired or identified as potential acquisitions for the collection

c. the work has deteriorated or been damaged to a point where, even after restoration, it will no longer adequately serve the purposes of study or display, or the significance of the work is insufficient to warrant the allocation of the resources necessary to restore it

d. the Gallery does not have legal title to the work due to prior illicit trade or a substantiated legal claim of ownership by another party

e. cultural or ethical claims to the possession of the work are identified as taking precedence over the Gallery’s legal title, in accordance with the Provenance and Due Diligence Research Policy and Procedures or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy and Procedures

f. the work is found to have been falsely documented, described or attributed, or to be a forgery and of no artistic merit

g. the work presents a significant workplace or public health and safety risk or poses a risk to other works in the collection 

h. the work has been confirmed as no longer being in the Gallery’s possession as a result of theft, loss or destruction.  

A work of art may be the subject of deaccessioning, regardless of the method by which it was acquired. However, no work of art acquired for the collection with a restriction as to its retention will be deaccessioned while that restriction remains in force.  

The Gallery will make every reasonable effort to notify living donors, the immediate heirs or trustees of the estate of deceased donors, or trustees of corporate donors of the intention to deaccession works of art donated by them by means of gift, devise or bequest.

Unless in exceptional circumstances, a work of art by a living artist will not be deaccessioned. In the event that a work by a living artist is considered for deaccession, every reasonable effort will be made to inform the artist first. 

Where the Gallery has made reasonable endeavours and is unable to locate the artist, donor, trustee, executor or personal representative, the work of art may be deaccessioned.

6.3 Identification and proposal of works to be deaccessioned

In accordance with the Gallery’s commitment to public accountability and transparency and the exercise of sound professional judgement, a work of art proposed for deaccessioning and disposal shall be subject to a rigorous assessment and documentation process. 

The deaccession proposal will be prepared by the relevant curator and will detail the grounds for the proposal with reference to the terms of this policy.

6.4 Approval of works for deaccessioning

Authority to approve the deaccessioning of a work of art from the collection and the method of disposal rests with the Board of Trustees.

All works proposed for deaccessioning must be presented to the Acquisitions and Loans Committee for endorsement.

All deaccession proposals will be considered on their merit, taking into account the principles and terms of this policy and the grounds for deaccession outlined in the deaccession proposal. Prior to consideration by the Acquisitions and Loans Committee, deaccession proposals are approved by the head curator, deputy director and director. 

The decisions of the Acquisitions and Loans Committee, including summary listings of works approved for deaccession under the director’s delegation, will be minuted. The recommendations of each Acquisitions and Loans Committee meeting will be ratified at the subsequent meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Subsequent to the Board of Trustees’ resolution to deaccession a work of art, a minimum six-month setting aside period must be allowed before any subsequent action is taken. 

After trustee approval to deaccession and the completion of the setting aside period, the recommendation will be re-presented to the Board of Trustees for ratification. Approval by the New South Wales Governor of the recommendation is required before the deaccession and disposal can be effected. 

A work of art is formally deaccessioned from the collection on the date of the trustees approval to deaccession (and following the six-month setting aside period), subject to approval of the deaccession recommendation by the Governor. 

6.5 Disposal of deaccessioned works

Suitable methods of disposal of works from the collection will be identified in the deaccession proposal and approved by the delegated authority. 

Methods of disposal will be in accordance with the Act and may include:

a. sale

b. exchange

c. gift to an educational institution including an art gallery

d. if the Trust is of the opinion that the work of art is of no commercial value, then the Trust may dispose of the work of art without any valuable consideration.

In applying these legislated options, the Gallery may consider the following:

a. with the exception of works of art acquired under the terms of the Cultural Gifts Program, return the property to living donors, the immediate heirs or trustees of the donor’s estate, trustees of corporate donors, or the artist 

b. return or restitution to a legally proven owner

c. return or restitution to another party arising from cultural or ethical claims to the possession of the work

d. gift to another public collecting institution 

e. public auction, sale or tender 

f.  transfer to a library, archive or other reference collection held by the Gallery  

g. physical destruction 

h. depending on the manner and circumstances of the acquisition, consideration may be given to rescinding the purchase or gift by which the work was acquired. 

Except in exceptional circumstances (or when an artist instructs the Gallery to destroy the work, if they are then making a replacement), the Gallery shall consider the destruction of a work only where it poses a significant risk to health or safety, or where the work has been deaccessioned due to its deteriorated condition such that the integrity of the work of art in its original form cannot be restored through conservation treatment.  

In the instance of a work of art found to have been falsely documented, described or attributed and/or a forgery, consideration in the method of disposal must be given to the protection of the public interest and details of any errors in the documentation, description or attribution of the work of art shall be made known.

6.6 Disposal of uncollected property

Works will be deemed uncollected property in accordance with the terms of section 5 of the Uncollected Goods Act 1995 or as otherwise agreed in accordance with the terms of any agreements or contracts regarding the property entered into between the Gallery and the lender, owner or their agent. 

The disposal of works of art deemed uncollected or abandoned will be carried out in accordance with the Uncollected Goods Act 1995 or the terms of any agreement or contract between the lender, owner or their agent and the Gallery.

6.7 Proceeds of sale

The proceeds derived from the disposal of works in accordance with this policy will be used solely for the purpose of acquisition of works for the collection. 

The use of income derived from the disposal of a work of art in accordance with this policy will be acknowledged in the credit line for the new acquisition and will include the name of the original donor, or otherwise reflect the source of funds for the work that has been disposed of.

6.8 Transparency and accountability

6.8.1 Publication of deaccession and disposal

The Gallery will ensure that details of deaccessioned works will be included in the annual report.

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 all works deaccessioned or disposed of, including proposed deaccessions 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

Works of art that have been deaccessioned may not be purchased by, exchanged, or have ownership transferred to, or otherwise be made available to be acquired by any Gallery staff or trustees, or members of their immediate family or close associates, and nor may they receive any personal benefit from the disposal of a deaccessioned work of art. 

7. Responsibilities and compliance

The Board of Trustees is responsible for approving the deaccession of artworks, subject to ministerial approval. 

The Acquisitions and Loans Committee is responsible for monitoring and reviewing all aspects of the deaccession 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 process and documentation relating to deaccessions conform to all Gallery policies and that Gallery staff understand and comply with the policies.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Policy

  • Art Acquisitions Policy

  • Collections Management Policy

  • Conflict of Interest Policy

  • Gifts and Benefits Policy

  • Provenance and Due Diligence Research Policy

  • Record Keeping Policy

8.2 Guidelines, procedures and associated documents

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Procedures

  • Acquisitions and Loans Committee Charter

  • Art Acquisition Procedures

  • Artwork Claims Handling Procedures

  • Code of Conduct

  • Code of Conduct for Board of Trustees

  • Provenance and Due Diligence Research Procedures

  • Risk Management – Statement of Intent

8.2.2 National and international guidelines, procedures and associated documents

  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 1973, as amended 1979 and 1983

  • ICOM, Code of Ethics for Museums, 2017

  • Ministry for the Arts, Cultural Gifts Program guide, 2013

  • Museums Australia, Code of Ethics, 1999 (under review)

  • Pacific Islands Museums Association, Code of Ethics for Pacific Museums and Cultural Centres, 2006

  • UNESCO, Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, 1970

  • Unidroit, Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, 1995

  • United Nations, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007

8.3 Legislation

8.3.1 Commonwealth of Australia

8.3.2 New South Wales

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