If you’re an art collector, loaning your beloved possessions to a museum or a traveling exhibition is like a Holy Grail type of achievement. It can add to the value and provenance of your works and to the Collector’s personal swag factor. You don’t get there accidentally though. There are things you need to do to make those invitations more likely, and things you’ll need to know when it happens.
The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure you’re buying museum quality art by artists who are culturally relevant and in whom museums and curators are interested. Another thing, curators need to know or be able to find out what you own. You achieve that by working with reputable galleries and consultants when making acquisitions. They talk. If you buy art from artists directly, be sure they have current contact information for you or your representative (if you’re the sort of person who has a representative) so that they can direct curators to you when they are looking for art to fill out an exhibit. Having philanthropic, social and professional relationships with curators and museums will help a lot too. As important as knowing you, is liking you so that people will want to work with you. So, remember to behave like a proper human being at all times.
If all or any of that works, you may be sending some of your most prized possessions out into the world to make it a better place. While they’re out, you want to be certain that they will be treated well and that they come home exactly as they left. You do that first by only working with the most credible institutions having the most pristine reputations. Even with all of that, you’ll still need a rock solid Loan Agreement. The Loan Agreement details everything that’s expected to happen from the time the art leaves your walls to the time it's returned to that same wall. There are basic points covered in the agreement, but art being art, a lot of detail and customization are required.
The borrowing institution is generally responsible for all costs associated with the loan, including insurance. If you’re able to help offset those costs with a generous tax deductible donation, it would no doubt be greatly appreciated.
As important as knowing you, is liking you so that people will want to work with you. So, remember to behave like a proper human being at all times.
The basic points are these:
The appraisal – You want a current appraisal (three years or less).
Title and Authenticity – Your art is your art because you bought it, fair and square. The gallerist vouched for it and no one is coming into your parlour to tell you otherwise. Once your works are out in the world though, there is the possibility that someone might see it, recognize it and find reason to challenge your legal title to it. This is extremely unlikely and may even seem silly, until it’s happening. Then you’ll be wishing you’d checked, double checked and solidified your claim. If there’s any question as to title or provenance, keep that one at home while you sort it out.
Packing and Shipping – Talk with the museum’s conservator about who they use for packing and shipping. Do you know them? Do you like them? Do you trust them? If not request someone else. If the costs are comparable, the museum should still pay for it. You do have some negotiation space in all of this.
Security – Don’t assume anything. Ask all of the questions you need to in order to make yourself comfortable with the security of your art. You are concerned with damage as much as theft. Probably more so. An unfortunate waiter with a tray of bruschetta is far more likely to be a problem than a daring, movie-style art heist.
Display conditions – Art exhibitions often travel. Exhibition layouts will have to change from one museum to another. Find out as much as you can about every place your art is going. You might want special display cases, depending on climates, expected traffic flows, et cetera.
Labeling – You may or may not want all of the denizens of the art world to know that you are a benefactor of an exhibit. You may want your own name, or you Family Foundation's name on the labels, or “Anonymous Gift” on the tag. Figure that out and let the curators know how your labels should read. Double check them after printing.
Storage – Especially if touring, your art may spend time in storage while it’s out. Know where it’s going to be and make sure you’re comfortable with all of the arrangements.
Restoration or repairs, in the event something bad happens – No. Never. Not without your full knowledge and consent. Even though someone else is responsible for the costs, use your own conservators or be certain that you can approve of theirs.
Timing – Never agree to an open ended loan arrangement. Long-term is often appropriate, but shorter is better. If all goes well, you can re-up on the agreement. Don’t leave yourself feeling trapped though. Besides, you are going to miss your stuff.
…and most importantly, insurance.
In a best case scenario, you get the best case scenarios. If anything goes wrong though, you absolutely have to know that the right insurances are in place. Again, the borrower is responsible for obtaining and paying for insurance. Have your own broker or consultant review all policies though. Be sure that all associated vendors are included as “additionally insureds” and that the dollar amounts are appropriate to risk and to the appraisals. Shippers and storage facilities have insurance, but it won’t ever be enough. They need to be covered in the overriding policy coverage. Be sure the carriers can and will meet their obligations in the event of a catastrophe.
Depending on your premiums and how long your art will be on loan, it may be fiscally viable to drop your personal coverage while your things are out and covered by another policy. While the savings could be significant, you will want to discuss the pros and cons of that with your advisors.
Don’t be daunted by all of the necessary precautions. If you can lend art to a museum or traveling exhibition, you definitely should. After all, that’s how art finds its way to the world, and who doesn’t want to be That Person?
William S Jiggetts