Friday, 30 September 2016

UKRG Culture Club: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Welcome back to UKRG Culture Club! Every few months we will be looking at how Registrars, and the issues we face, influence and are portrayed in popular culture. A registrar’s role, as we all know, has many different guises – the issues we face are commonly reported in the news and media, and find their way into popular culture. This blog will be reviewing exhibitions that catch our eye and reporting on how registration issues are highlighted in pop culture, through literature, film, music and beyond.

UKRG Committee would love to hear from you! Please send your own UKRG Culture Club reviews to Becca England, Supporting Officer

This month, Becca England, UKRG Supporting Officer is reporting on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, reviewed by The Guardian as “The story of a boy who loses a mother and gains a painting”

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) 784 pp.

*Spoiler alert!

Having hotly anticipated the release of Tartt’s most recent novel after enjoying The Secret History so much, I was thrilled to learn her latest offering would focus on the art world.

The Goldfinch is a fascinating, albeit long, novel that follows the life of Theo Decker. We first meet twelve-year-old Theo at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York with his beloved mother. They are visiting her favourite painting: Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch (in the collection at The Mauritshuis in the Hague and due to be displayed at the Scottish National Gallery next month) which is part of a temporary exhibition of Dutch Masterpieces. Whilst they are visiting, a bomb detonates in the museum and his mother is killed. In the ensuing panic, an elderly man seemingly motions towards The Goldfinch. Theo snatches the painting without considering the ramifications and flees.  The book is an exploration of the emotional and practical consequences of loss, and the potential for a piece of art to haunt your life...

The practicalities of a terror attack in a museum

This book throws particular light on a number of issues Registrars have to manage. As Theo is fleeing the scene after the bomb detonates, Tartt gives us a sense of real life:

“The hallway seemed to stretch for miles. Fearfully I crept along, peering into offices where the doors happened to stand ajar. Cameron Geisler, Registrar. Miyako Fujita, Assistant Registrar.” The specific use of the term Registrar jerked me to life!

Naturally, the entire scenario of the novel is distressing - however even more so for those of us who would be involved in managing the aftermath of an event such as this. As the narrative unfolded, I inevitably started to run through my head the processes a registrar needs to go through should this occur: what are the insurance implications? What would the type of damage be? What immediate conservation would be required? How quickly could we get into the building? How high on the emergency services’ lists would the artworks be in the event of a terror attack? What would the ramifications be for future loan negotiations? How many calls would I have to field from lenders? Where are my checklists??

As well as the practicalities of the terror attack itself, this book does raise an interesting point about the safety of artworks in an emergency situation. Theo’s act is audacious; however the threat of a member of the public stealing an artwork in the melee is real. This story is potentially far-fetched, yet (unfortunately) plausible.

Due Diligence and the blackmarket

The other strand that interested me professionally was the concept of stolen artworks resurfacing decades later. Unbeknownst to Theo, his childhood friend Boris had stolen the painting and replaced it with a textbook of similar weight (!) when they were children. By the time Theo is an adult, The Goldfinch is being used as a bartering tool by gangsters on the black market. Hopefully we won’t ever have to come across provenance this outrageous when performing our Due Diligence research – but it could happen! According to ACE Due Diligence policies, should a borrower deem an artwork to have questionable provenance such as this, they must terminate the loan in order to combat illicit trade. In the case of The Goldfinch turning up in a private collection fifty years after the theft, with no known provenance until that point – we would certainly be suspicious if it was coming in to loan!

A cheeky alternative

A contrasting read should you be interested in the murky world of art crime is Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters. This book isn’t quite the haute literature of Tartt, but it is a rip-roaring yarn about a headhunter who steals art from his clients in order to live the high life. It’s totally outrageous and hilariously entertaining. There is also a film featuring some tasty Norwegian guys – it’s the best kind of homework.

Friday, 26 August 2016

New National Museum Policies and their Impact on Collection Managers by Katie Childs (Policy and Projects Manager, National Museum Directors' Council)

Katie Childs opened the July UKRG event “Things you never knew you never knew” giving us an overview of the changes and reviews which are currently happening in the British public museums and galleries sector.

Since April there have been many changes in Parliament and the entire museum sector was reviewed in terms of how museums work together, regional and local provisions.

In her talk Katie focused mainly on the new Culture White Paper which was published in March, 51 years after the first version.
The Culture White Paper has four main targets:
                    Make culture accessible by everybody no matter people's backgrounds or education.
                    Make communities across the country benefit of culture through partnerships between national and local institutions.
                    Use culture to create international collaborations and to promote UK global reputation.
                    Increase investments and incentives in the cultural sector through government diversified funds.

In the UK cultural sector museums and art galleries play a substantial role.
In the past 10 years the number of visitors has hugely increased and museums have become extremely popular. People recognise them as important and trustworthy institutions and they enjoy spending time there.
It has been seen that museums create prosperity for communities and territory in addition to increase tourism.

Katie highlighted the importance for national museums and art galleries to share their skills and expertise working in partnership with local museums. Partnerships should be transparent, flexible, mutually beneficial, frequent and numerous. Partnerships could improve areas such as collection management, loans, storage, training sessions.

In addition Katie mentioned the following big changes that have happened since March 2016:

                    New Arts Council England Investment Model whose goals are:
- Including museums and libraries in the investment portfolio for the first time.
- Lengthening national portfolio funding agreements for three to four years.
- Opening up grants for arts programmes to museums and libraries.

                    Changes to Local Authority Funding which are happening all over the country:
1. Finance:
- Significant and rapid reduction in funding from central government.
- Will be replaced by local business rates revenue retention by 2020.
- Restriction on Council Tax rises.
- Growing statutory service costs.
- Museums are not statutory services.

2. Devolution:
- Devolution of spending decisions from central government to city and town halls.
- Secondary devolution.
- Combined authorities and elected Mayors.
- City deals.

3. Local enterprise partnership:
- Local economic planning.
- Replace regional development agencies.
- Limited museum representation.
- Can bring benefit for culture.

4. Place making:
- DCMS policy.
- Major civic institutions.
- Supporting peaceful and prosperous communities.
- Museums make a place attractive to live in, work in and visit.

                    Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry

                    Scottish Cultural Strategy

                    DCMS Museums Review

                    Welsh Museums Review

                    Review of Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund

Finally Katie told us it is too early for DCMS to know the consequences that Brexit will have on the museums sector. In the meantime she offered some good advice to avoid panic.

After the sad episodes of exclusion and racism happened in England straight after the referendum, museums want to reassure people they are safe and welcoming places of inclusion.
We know museums have a great impact on society but it has been very nice of Katie to remind us that if the government and people invest on museums it is thanks to our actions and expertise.

For further information, Katie can be contacted at

By Greta Casacci, Project Collections Registrar, National Galleries of Scotland

Friday, 12 August 2016

Committee Role Highlights: Web Officer

Serving as Web Officer on the UKRG committee has been hugely rewarding. The first thing I’d say, if you’re considering applying, is that you don’t necessarily need a great deal of technical expertise before taking on the role. You’ll be responsible for liaising with the company who provide our web support, Awesem, for checking that the site works, for reporting web stats at the AGM and for renewing licenses and updating content as necessary. You’ll get a handbook on how to do all of this. 

At some of our Event venues: the Canal Museum (above) and the old Design Museum (below)

That said, one of the big highlights of the role for me has been learning about, and developing experience of, website admin. I also led on a project to overhaul the website’s content, which was a very rewarding opportunity to ensure the website remains a useful and usable resource. It’s also developed my negotiation skills, advocating for UKRG’s needs to the Web Support Company and advocating to the committee the reasons for spending money on the website.
Panel Discussion at the event in Manchester, April 2016

Being part of the UKRG committee has given me lots of other amazing opportunities – from getting to know the rest of the committee to having the opportunity to give input on major sector issues. I was also very lucky to attend the European Registrars Conference in Vienna, which was a fantastic opportunity to meet colleagues from across Europe and to learn about the challenges and opportunities faced across the continent.

At the European Registrars' Conference in Vienna

Overall, it’s been a tremendous experience. If you’re considering applying and want to chat through what the role entails, please do get in touch with me.

Susannah Darby UKRG Web Officer 2014-2016

Committee Role Highlights: Treasurer

Being part of the UKRG committee has been a stimulating learning experience into the world of budgets and the importance of the role of the registrar. In my time as treasurer I have mastered excel spread sheets, become acquainted with the banks of South Kensington (an experience in itself) and most importantly learnt how to build and maintain a budget. 

This is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the role of treasurer on the UKRG committee, previously I had no knowledge of how to build a spread sheet to document the numerous channels of money flow and ensure that the books were balanced throughout the year, but through a very tight budget produced by my predecessor I have become quite familiar with the ways we can document the numerous aspects of UKRG’s income and expenditure.
However being part of the committee is more than just spread sheets and numbers, it is about trying to increase the awareness of the role of the registrar, influence and better understand the standards of good practice among our profession. Being part of fantastic events and getting to meet all the members in person at events and by processing their membership fees has been a great way to meet other registrars and understand just how varied and narrow our roles can be.

In this capacity I have been able to travel across the UK and Europe to see other museums and learn about how they operate. As part of an exhibition team in my day to day role I have been able to learn how to better apply myself to the exhibition registration practice and positively influence the teams I work with into championing the role of the registrar in the multitude of teams with which I work.

This however is a serious role and does take some time, concentration and dedication, knowledge of budgets is not necessary but the willingness to work with excel is. Nonetheless being on the UKRG committee offers more benefits than the time you put in and I will be sad to step down from my post. 

Terri Dendy, UKRG Treasurer 2014-2016

Committee Role Highlights: Supporting Officer

The role of Supporting Officer is very broad – my main task was to create a sustainable UKRG Archive. However, my role’s flexibility means I have been able to become involved with a range of activities at committee level. I assist at Events, complete administrative tasks on an ad-hoc basis and am also looking into potential legacy projects for the ERC Edinburgh money.

Becca at the ERC Conference, Vienna, 2016
By having a presence at events, I have been able to liaise with colleagues from other museums and agencies and build better working relationships – being able to put a face to a name is incredibly helpful in a world full of e-mail. As a result of these networking opportunities I have been able to build relationships both nationally and internationally. Being on the committee means that your travel to and from events is covered. This has been a great help to me as I have been able to attend events I otherwise would not have been able to outside of London and internationally.

The UKRG Archive in full swing! © Dr Ellie Pridgeon
Setting up the archive has meant contact with many different colleagues and institutions, and helped me to gain a better understanding of the different roles within our sector, as well as the important work that the UKRG has been doing since conception. Being able to create a sustainable archive has been a fantastic achievement, as my work will create a lasting record of the important work of the UKRG.

The past 2 years have flown by, and I will always benefit from the relationships, and knowledge, I have built up with UKRG members and the committee.

Rebecca England, UKRG Supporting Officer 2014-2016

Thursday, 7 July 2016

European Registrars Conference 2016 - Insect Pests out of the Box

Pascal Querner Researcher, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Austria

My backgrounds; Conservation background qualified with undergraduate in Art History followed by MA in Conservation in 1992 work as a freelance conservator mainly for the National Galleries of Scotland. Also Project Manager of HLF Funded SFF project, Opening Up Scotland’s Archives for the Scottish Council on Archives.  I’ve been a member of UKRG for 4 years and two years ago volunteered in Registrars Department at National Galleries of Scotland to gain more experience and completed the Diploma on Art Professional Law and Ethics in 2014

Pascal started his talk with brief introduction about himself and said that he loved art but loves pests more. The talk continued at a fast pace with lots of good humour to keep you alert and take in all the information. Pascal explained the term Integrated Pest Management which many people will be familiar with, however, useful to have bullet point references. We focused on how pests are transported into gallery and museum environment and lastly responses to pest problems.  Reiterating several times throughout the presentation that Prevention is the best approach to pest management.

All museums and galleries should have an Integrated Pest Management Programme which will centre on Prevention, Monitoring and if necessary Treatment.

There were some people sitting in the room didn’t think their museum or gallery had pests but according to Pascal every environment will have some present as Museums and galleries as they provide a food source, a warm and protective environment and offer safety from their predators. It’s fairly easy for pests to get into building, if’s it old they are probably already present, but they come through doors, windows, holes in the floorboards or skirting boards. Often they are unwittingly transported by visitors or in new acquisitions or borrowed objects and paintings for exhibitions. Pests can be unintentionally moved around the museum and offsite when objects and packaging materials are transported. A good point made by Pascal that it is not only old museum objects but modern art that can also have pest problems.

It’s something we can’t ignore as pests don’t only damage the art or museum objects, but are a health risk for museum workers, visitors and an environmental hazard.

Obviously, prevention is the long term solution to avoiding a pest problem and if possible appoint a pest management coordinator who will be responsible for continuous monitoring of pests, sealing the building and reducing the chances of entry, climate control, training staff, oversee good housekeeping and cleaning practices. If pests are found they need to be identified, locate the infestation and evaluate the problem and selecting the best treatment method.  
Pascal showed a slide of a flow diagram depicting the five stages of control measures and their relationship. It’s taken from Agnes Brokerhof’s work on IPM and clearly illustrates the assessment and management of Pests Risks in Collection.

Identification is paramount and we saw slides of hugely magnified insects, reminiscent of a 1950’s B movie where giant cockroaches were taking over the world.

Pascal spoke of pests found in museums and galleries all over the world, and depending on the climate and location, each country will have their particular problematic pests.  In the UK commonly found pests, include;
Silverfish and firebrats that prefer starchy foods and will eat fabrics, paper and sizing, and the glue and paste in older book bindings. 

The Beetle: usually of these three: Lyctidae (true powderpost beetles that cannot digest cellulose and attack the sapwood of hardwood only), Bostrichtidae (false powderpost beetles that attack both soft and hardwood), and Anobiidae (anobiid, furniture, and deathwatch beetles that attack both soft and hardwood, and prefer to feed on sapwood). 

Rodents can do an immense amount of damage to collections, particularly paper and textiles which can be chewed and ripped up for nesting materials. Prevention of a rodent problem is easier than trying to remove it

or else…….

In the past a method of controlling pests involved the use of Pesticides.  It is not recommended as a long term solution as there can be serious health risks. – Pascal knows of 2 incidents of death as the result of long term exposure to pesticides. There is also a high risk of damaging and causing corrosion of art material due to pesticides. 

What do we do when we discover pests?

If you do find anything, isolate it immediately and then think about your options. The video clip shows a picture (with a new wooden frame) on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland. As you would expect there was a condition report sent with the picture and a conservator at NGS checked the paperwork and object.  During the exhibition, warders at NGS noticed powder on the carpet which turned out to be frass.  The Pest Management Officer at NGS, Keith Morrison was alerted and when he examined the picture he noticed a very small black hole and something was moving. He grabbed his iPhone and using his handheld magnifying glass recorded the woodworm making its first appearance into daylight.

The picture was immediately removed from the Gallery and isolated. All pictures were thoroughly examined, but none other were contaminated. The owners of the picture were contacted and it was agreed to return it to them for treatment.

Treatment Options

Pascal advocated the use of a nitrogen chamber or tent, however, the downside is it takes 5 weeks to complete the treatment.  It is a specialist treatment and has cost implications. A somewhat cheaper and very effective alternative and widely used treatment in the UK is freezing. I asked Pascal a questions, ‘is it safe to use a nitrogen chamber with all museum objects and paintings?’  Pascal said that there can be a change to the pigment Prussian Blue which can be reversed.  Nitrogen can in some cases contribute to growth of microorganisms with nitrogenase enzymes that help fix nitrogen as a fuel source. More research is needed in this area to clarify this potential issue.

Freezing is another very popular treatment and cost effective.
Safe for almost all organic and composite materials, relatively time-efficient and a low cost after initial investment for freezer.
Unlike, using a nitrogen tent or chamber, preparing objects for freezing does not entail extensive staff training or staff time for maintenance during procedure.

Speaking as a conservator, care should be taken with fragile, composite or unstable materials and recommended to seek advice from an expert. The type of freezer is important, ideally reducing the temperature to minus 29 degrees centigrade within 4 hours. Typical low-temperature treatment for infestation involves freezing for a minimum of 72 hours, several older publications recommend repeated freeze/thaw cycle(s) as a precaution, but recent work indicates that one longer treatment at a low enough temperature should suffice.
After removal from the freezer, objects should be allowed to acclimate to room temperature, still completely wrapped, until they are at room temperature, at least 24 hours.
Near the end of the presentation, Pascal focused on something which will be of particular interest to exhibition registrars.  It was various examples of pests entering the museum environment on materials used in the transportation and protection of objects, including new picture frames.


Wood pallets used to carry and store art objects.  Infected with a beetle and this can transfer its attention to the museum object.  This has occurred around ten times in Pascal’s career.

Textile Blankets, used to wrap objects and painting. Can be infected with the common cloth moth. Think about using synthetic blankets or have a policy to clean and freeze the blankets once or twice a year.

Transportation boxes – 12 months’ life cycles of a beetle, very quick and can affect an object or painting in storage – includes new wooden picture frames. Please see short film.

It’s important to always be alert and aware.
Must have active monitoring – just like monitoring RH and temperature.
Any new acquisitions must be checked for pests before they are stored next to existing parts of the collections.

In summary:
Pascal Querner gave a very good and entertaining introduction to Integrated Pest Management.  He has many years of experience working as a pest management consultant and was able to give real life examples of pest problems and was very happy to answer questions from the audience.  He concluded his presentation by reiterating that IPM is a long term programme, and not any good only doing it for one year. The next IPM Conference will be held in September 2016 in Paris at the Louvre, and he hopes that some of the audience will be attending.

Pascal recommends reading ‘Integrated Pest Management for Cultural Heritage’, by
     David Pinniger. Published by Archetype Publications Ltd (9 Mar. 2014)
     More information can be found:

Thank you to UKRG for giving me a bursary towards the cost of attending the 2016 European Registrars Conference in Vienna. I would also like to thank, Keith Morrison at the National Galleries of Scotland for discussing the IPM work at NGS including Duff House.

By Audrey Wilson BA(Hons) in the History of Drawing & Printmaking, MA in Conservation. 
Dip APLE (London)

Monday, 4 July 2016

European Registrars Conference 2016 - The transformation of the condition report: from colour-coded pens to digital media

Jennifer Hefner Head Registrar of the American Federation of Arts, Co-Founder of Articheck, USA

Jennifer started by introducing the background to the development of the Articheck tool, the progression from the analogue to the digital. She has managed an ever increasing amount of paperwork including the condition report during her career.  

The condition report records an army of things and acts as a historical timeline for the evolution of the work. There are no requirements for who can complete these reports and no international standards for a template. There is a subjective component as the specialism the reporter has will bias their interpretation of the object.

Despite this, the form of the condition report has remained consistent over the last few decades.
Noting changes on photographs is routinely used for example, colour coding changes with pens. However, these annotations can often be difficult to interpret. Highlighting can obscure the detail itself on the image. There is often no dates or initials for context and copying degrades the detail.

There is the issue of documentation retention. What is the long term answer? Digitalisation, deep storage, perhaps destruction after a set number of years?

In an attempt to move forward from paper based reports she had started using PDF Expert to scan reports and produce digital copies but these were not easily editable and required manual entry.
There was a lack of audit trail.

Annika Erikson had already been developing a new app during her time as a Paper Conservator at the Tate. An ambitious loan programme there with limited resources had led to the need for a rapid entry system which she had started to develop and at this point Jennifer and Annika joined forces to found the company.

Testing phase:

White Cube Gallery undertook testing of the app. They found a stand analogue report took 45 minutes but with Articheck this was reduced to just 10 minutes. They also undertook surveying work. The majority of those surveyed were interested in going digital if it saved time!

The mobile app works offline but wifi is needed for uploading to the cloud. CMS (collections management system) data can be migrated to Articheck account and categorises can be tailored. You have an annotation pallet to choose from and a language function for translation.

You can highlight areas of damage after picking the annotation you want and they do not obscure the detail within the image. Popup windows can be added for notes. Reference images can be embedded and the report will be generated and saved in the individual or institutions account. There is a legal audit trail once completed and it will be signed and dated and locked. New layers can be added but these will also be signed and time stamped. Reports can be shared by creating user permissions for external clients.

Condition reporting in the digital era!

The future:
Cloud based applications such as Collector Systems. Tagging of objects allowing environmental data to be collected in transit and linked into the Articheck programme automatically. The use of jpg image comparison software with embedded measurement tool allowing changes to be tracked.

Jennifer packed a lot into her short slot so for further details do check out . It is a very attractive and clever system with plenty to recommend it for ease of use, storage solutions and data security/sharing possibilities. As someone working within a medium sized museum service, with a CMS which includes conservation tools I am not sure paying for this system and running it alongside our other database is the way to go. I do think it can tell us a lot about how to develop our own systems and for those who do not already work within a fixed frame work the usability and comprehensive nature of this tool could prove very beneficial, helping speed up workflows and increasing the information held on individual objects.

By Fran Coles ARC, Conservation & Documentation Manager, Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives