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

Part 1: Preliminary


1. These procedures are established by the Director and approved by the Trust pursuant to the Act.


2. These procedures come into effect on 24 June 2014.


3. Any pre-existing policy, direction or guideline issued by the Gallery is, to the extent that it deals with a matter that is the subject of these procedures, revoked.


4. The Director is responsible for interpretation of these procedures.


5. In these procedures,

  • Act means the Art Gallery of New South Wales Act 1980.
  • Collection means works of art in various media that are Trust Property. Collection also includes other original material preserved by the Gallery for the purpose of research and the enhancement of programs, including archives, sound, film and video recordings, photographs, architectural plans and drawings.
  • Curator means the person responsible for proposing artworks for particular areas of the Gallery’s collection and for the interpretation, study and development of the collection.
  • De-accessioning means the formal adjustment of records to reflect the removal of a work of art from the collection.
  • Director means the Director of the Gallery as defined in section 4 of the Act, and includes a person appointed as acting Director.
  • Disposal describes the manner in which ownership of a de-accessioned work of art from the collection is transferred from the Gallery to another party.
  • Gallery means the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
  • Provenance describes the history of ownership of a work of art prior to its acquisition by the Gallery.
  • Restitution is the restoration to its rightful owner of something that was unjustly taken.
  • Trust means the Art Gallery of NSW Trust constituted by the Act.
  • Work of art means a work of art that is part of the collection.

Part 2: Objectives and principles


6. 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 is a publicly funded New South Wales statutory authority.

7. The Gallery accepts the de-accessioning of works of art as a legitimate collection management activity, the use of which is endorsed by the International Council of Museums and Museums Australia. The Gallery regards the practice as an appropriate means of advancing the mission of the Gallery by improving the collection.


8. This policy provides the rationale, authority, process and criteria for the de-accession and removal of a work of art from the collection.

Part 3: De-accessioning process and conditions

9. A work of art should be retained in the collection if it is consistent with the objectives of the Trust and if it continues to be of relevance and significance, and for as long as the Gallery is able to appropriately utilise and care for it. De-accessioning may be considered when these standards are no longer met and when disposal through sale, exchange or otherwise could contribute to the enhancement of the collection.

Justification for de-accessioning a work of art can include:

  • The work of art is no longer deemed to be of a standard suitable for inclusion in the holdings of a major public art museum
  • Superior examples of the work of the artist or period may have been acquired, or are available for acquisition
  • The work of art may have been illicitly traded and the Gallery does not have legal title to it
  • The Gallery is unable to continue to provide an appropriate level of care for the work of art
  • The work of art may be found to have been incorrectly attributed and/or a forgery
  • The work of art may be in poor condition which is beyond restoration; or the importance of the work of art is insufficient to warrant the allocation of resources necessary to restore it
  • The work of art poses a risk to staff or visitors, or to other objects

10. A work of art proposed for de-accessioning shall be identified by curatorial staff in consultation with the Director of Collections and the Director.


(a) Any work of art in the collection can be the subject of de-accessioning howsoever it has been acquired including by gift, inter vivos, devise or bequest.

(b) No works of art in the collection can be de-accessioned or be the subject of a disposal otherwise than in accordance with the Act.

12. De-accessioning and disposal of a work of art acquired by gift, devise or bequest shall be undertaken with the knowledge of the donor (or the donor’s immediate family and/or estate) – to do otherwise would be inconsistent with the relationship of trust existing between the Gallery and donors and the public in general.

13. The Gallery will use its best endeavours to inform a living artist if it proposes to dispose of a work by the artist.


14. A work of art proposed for de-accessioning and disposal shall be subject to a rigorous assessment and documentation process equivalent to that applied to a work of art under consideration for acquisition.

15. A recommendation for de-accessioning and method of disposal shall be submitted to the Director for approval, where the current value of the work of art does not exceed the authority delegated to the Director by the Board of Trustees. The limit of this authority shall be the same as that applicable to the authority delegated to the Director for the discretionary purchase of a work of art for the collection. Where the value of the work of art exceeds the authority delegated to the Director by the Board of Trustees, a recommendation for de-accessioning shall be submitted via the Director to the Board of Trustees for approval.

16. A recommendation shall include full justification of the proposal with reference to the Gallery’s acquisitions policy.

17. A recommendation to de-accession a work of art, regardless of the proposed method of disposal, shall include an assessment of the market value of the work of art prepared by Gallery staff and supported by external opinion.

Restitution of property

Illicit trade

18. The Gallery recognises that there exists trafficking in works of art which have been stolen in peacetime, or appropriated by theft or other illicit means during times of civil unrest and armed conflict. The Gallery shall not knowingly collect such works of art.

19. The Gallery acknowledges that the Australian Government is a signatory of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) and that legislation has been implemented accordingly (Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986). As well, the Code of Ethics for Museums (2004) of the International Council of Museums and the Code of Ethics for Art, History & Science Museums (1999) of Museums Australia preclude museums from participating in transactions involving illicit material.

Curatorial staff, as an ongoing activity compliant with best professional practice, shall research the provenance of works of art already acquired as well as those under consideration for acquisition.

Secret/sacred works of art; human remains

20. Where it is identified that the Gallery is in possession of a work of art which is of special cultural significance to Indigenous Australian people, the Gallery shall disclose this information and act in accordance with the Policy guidelines for museums and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the policies contained in Previous possessions, new obligations, both of Museums Australia.

21. Restitution demands by legitimate claimants shall be treated with respect and sensitivity and considered seriously by the Gallery. This shall be done regardless of whether the work of art is in the collection or is in the custody of the Gallery.

22. The Gallery supports the sentiment of a collaborative responsibility for Australia’s cultural heritage and consideration shall be given to the specific individual circumstances and the effect restitution may have on the immediate safety and long-term preservation of the work of art.

Part 4: Approval/ratification

23. Authority to de-accession a work of art from the collection, and to approve the method of disposal, rests with the Trust through the Board of Trustees and based on the recommendation of the Director.

24. When the Trust determines that a work of art is to be de-accessioned, the Trust will seek the prior approval of the New South Wales Governor in accordance with the Act.

Part 5: Disposal

25. Suitable methods of disposal for a work of art shall be identified in the de-accessioning proposal and shall be in accordance with the Act.

26. The de-accessioned work of art may be offered for disposal by way of:

  • Sale
  • Exchange
  • Gift to an educational institution including an art gallery
  • 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

27. Preference may be given, where appropriate, to disposal of a de-accessioned work of art to another public collecting institution in an effort to maintain public access to the work of art.

28. A de-accessioned work of art shall not be available directly by sale or exchange or otherwise to Gallery staff or Trustees, or their immediate family, nor may they receive any personal benefit from the disposal of a de-accessioned work of art.

29. As a general guiding principle the Gallery shall not destroy a work of art. The Gallery shall consider the destruction of a work of art only where it poses an extreme risk to health or safety, or where the deteriorated condition of it is such that it is unusable and could not be restored to a state which would do justice to the integrity of a work of art in its original form. Assessment shall not otherwise be based on monetary or aesthetic measures.

30. The income derived from the disposal of a de-accessioned work of art shall be used only for the acquisition of works of art for the collection, and these acquisitions shall be made in conformity with the Gallery’s acquisitions policy.

31. The use of income derived from the disposal of a de-accessioned gift toward the acquisition of another work of art shall be acknowledged in the credit line for the new acquisition and shall include the name of the original donor.