Visual Artists

Visual Artists – Museum Loans & Sales

Similar to the way an artist can consign his or her work to a gallery for sale, he or she may loan it to a museum for exhibition. For the artist, the primary benefit of such an arrangement is that the work will be on display. The primary concerns are that the art will be handled properly and returned promptly and in good condition.

If an artist lends a piece to a museum for exhibition without a written contract, the museum is considered to be holding the work under bailment. As such, the museum is charged with exercising reasonable care in keeping the work from harm. Because this arrangement does not make any provisions for accidental damage or ruin, most artists and museums will turn to insurance. These, as well as other provisions of the lending arrangement, are best laid out in a lending contract.

In most cases, an artist will request what is known as wall-to-wall insurance coverage. Under this type of coverage, the work of art is covered from the time it leaves the artist until the time it is returned. If a museum does not make insurance arrangements, the artist should insist on an agreement of absolute liability, by which the museum will be held completely liable for any damage to the work or in case the work is lost or stolen, regardless of fault.

In addition to liability information, the lending contract should also include specific details of the loan. This should include information about the piece being loaned (title, size, etc.) as well as the duration of the loan, and the location of the exhibit. If the work is available for sale, the details regarding payment, commission, and shipping should also be included.

Another important aspect of a museum loan is how the museum will use and display the work. If the piece’s presence is to be publicized, the terms of that promotion should be agreed upon in the contract. Likewise, as the artist remains the owner of the work, any use of the work or its likeness in merchandise or publications will require prior arrangement and, perhaps, a payment agreement. An artist may also want to seek assurance that the piece will be displayed for the entirety of the time it is on loan.

Beyond loans, an artist may sell a work to a museum. In this instance, the museum has the same rights and obligations as any other purchaser. If the artist wishes to retain any rights over the work, such must be specified in the contract of sale. In some cases, the museum in its purchase becomes owner of the full copyright of the work. As owner, the museum may exploit the work as well as its likeness without having to secure the approval of the artist.

Similarly, an artist may give or bequeath a piece of art to a museum. Although the “giving” of a work may seem straightforward, there are several factors to consider. An artist, for example, may hesitate to give a work to a museum without some assurance that the piece will be displayed and not sold. Museums, on the other hand, are often reluctant to accept a piece if there are too many restrictions on how the piece must be handled. Typically, the value of the piece of collection and the size and stature of the benefactor will determine the nature of the donation agreement. Ideally, the needs of the museum and the desire of the donor can be balanced in a way that is agreeable to both parties.