Museums Explained





For definitions of typical museum staff positions, see Staff.

Accessioning is a process used to accept, by purchase, gift or trade, artworks for the museum's collection. The museum may also take possession of artworks through long term loans or as intended gifts. The accessioning process also includes the creating a record of the artwork indicating its source and other information. At the end of captions identifying artworks in catalogues or labels identifying the objects on exhibition walls commonly there are accession numbers. These numbers often are assigned by year of acquisition followed by a period and then another number indicating the order of acquisition in that particular year. For example, the accession number "46.11" for an object may mean that the object was the 11th item acquired by the museum in 1946.

Archives are non-current records of individuals, organizations or institutions preserved because of their continuing value.

Brochures are more modest in scope than catalogs, have fewer pages, and may be for sale or free. Brochures may have essays although not as many in number as catalogs. A brochure usually contains one brief essay by the curator. Images of all of the artworks in the exhibit may not be included. Brochures may contain artist monographs or thematic texts. There is no firm rule on when an exhibit advances to a catalog from a brochure. Factors include the length of the introductory essay, inclusion of additional essays, number of art objects in the exhibit, how much wording is used to describe each object and budget limitations.

Captions (see labels)

Catalogues historically meant paper-printed books created to accompany an exhibition. A catalogue may contain within the outer envelope of front and back covers a table of contents, a technical information page, a preface, one or more essays consisting of artist monographs or thematic texts, photos of artworks in the exhibition plus other photos, a checklist of the artworks in the exhibition, a bibliography, biographies of authors, an index and an acknowledgements page. For smaller exhibitions, a museum may publish a brochure or gallery guide with lesser information.

Both for-sale or collections-only exhibit catalogues may contain several essays. Let's take an hypothetical equestrian theme exhibit as an example. For instance, an introductory essay by the curator may explore the overall theme with references to key artists and objects; a second essay may describe in detail the evolution of western and eastern riding styles and specific use of them at a regional riding park; a third may describe the equestrian history of the region or county. There may be more essays than these. Separate essays could be folded into one large essay. If there are multiple essays, each essay usually has a separate author.

Accompanying the essay or essays are typically images of each art object. There can be one object or multiple objects on a page. Each object is accompanied by a label and in some cases an extended label that explains the object. Often, online catalogs and brochures are a mirror image of paper printed versions. Online technology enables magnification of objects, which can even entail individual brushstrokes not available to be seen in person when physical objects are roped off. Risk of copyright infringement increases as images increase in size; infringement mitigation software for online images may be available. Online catalogs provide an opportunity for a flipped book presentation, embedded audio and video guides, links to recordings of lectures and sales management software.

Both catalogs and brochures are increasingly presented both online and in print, or skip traditional paper printing. Online catalogs are usually free to viewers; printed catalogs are almost always priced; brochures may be priced or free.

Individuals can discover brochures, catalogues and gallery guides published concerning American representational art topics or artists using Traditional Fine Arts Organization's website using three methods.

Catalogue raisonné is a complete, annotated catalogue of the works of a deceased artist. It contains photos and information such as title, medium, size of each work. It also provides details of the present condition, and provenance of each work.

Cataloging is the creation of a full record of information about an object, cross-referenced to other records and files, and includes the process of identifying and documenting these objects in detail. Curators often prepare and keep up the information about the artwork. Some of the information recorded includes the name of the artist, name of the object, provenance of the object, the dimensions, media, photos of the object, the source of the object, a record of the exhibits in which the object was placed, loans made of the object, plus other data as needed.

Checklist means a list of artworks in an exhibit. Resource Library includes checklists in some articles concerning exhibitions. If you are interested to learning about a checklist published in connection with an exhibition covered by Resource Library, conduct an advanced search typing exhibition title keywords combined with the keyword "checklist." Checklists with thumbnail images of objects in an exhibition are called illustrated checklists.

Collecting is the process of accessioning objects for the museum.

Collection means the group of artworks owned by the museum. A collection may be based on criteria such as geographic area, time period, subject matter or topics, medium and style. A collection may also mean a subdivision of the whole collection within a larger institution or a group of artworks donated by an outside entity such as an individual, family or commercial enterprise. Artworks in the collection are either stored in a secured vault, being conserved onsite or offsite, on loan to other museums for exhibit -- or even on loan to art dealers for their exhibits -- when not being displayed. Often only a tiny fraction of a museum's collection is on display at any one time. A related topic is collection management policy, described in Mission, Organization and Accreditation.

Conservation is the application of science to the examination, care and treatment of museum objects. Conservation also includes the study of the environments in which they are placed. Preventive conservation includes actions taken to minimize or slow the rate of deterioration and to prevent damage to collections. Preventive conservation also includes activities such as risk assessment, development and implementation of guidelines for continuing use and care, appropriate environmental conditions for storage and exhibition, and proper procedures for handling, packing, transport and use. See TFAO's section on Conservation for more information.

Curation is a process of identification and organization of artworks in order to further knowledge. Curation includes verification and additions to the existing documentation for objects. Curators, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics web page " the acquisition, storage, and exhibition of collections, including negotiating and authorizing the purchase, sale, exchange, or loan of collections. They are also responsible for authenticating, evaluating, and categorizing the specimens in a collection. Curators oversee and help conduct the institution's research projects and related educational programs. However, an increasing part of a curator's duties involves fund raising and promotion, which may include the writing and reviewing of grant proposals, journal articles, and publicity materials, as well as attendance at meetings, conventions, and civic events."

Deaccessioning is the process used to remove an artwork permanently from the collection, including transfer of title. In a 6/14/07 article in the Wall Street Journal on storage of art objects, author Daniel Grant says: "Museums certainly have the longest experience with the problem of too much art. It has become axiomatic that great art, or art by great artists, will end up in museums; the storage problem of collectors eventually becomes that of an institution. Unlike private collectors, however, who can simply stop acquiring more things or just sell off what they no longer want, these institutions have boxed themselves in with a rule their associations have established: All money earned from deaccessioning must go toward acquisitions." Candace Jackson says in a 8/28/09 article in the Wall Street Journal on deaccessioning: "Deaccessioning is increasingly common among institutions faced with dwindling endowments and donations. The American Association of Museums opposes the practice, except when museums use the proceeds to maintain existing objects in their collections or acquire new works." Also see the College Art Association Web page for Standards and Guidelines, which contains a 2013 report titled "Statement Concerning the Deaccession of Works of Art" and a 2007 report titled "Art Museums and the Practice of Deaccessioning."

Didactic texts are interpretive/educational texts related to an exhibition, usually written by exhibition curators, that are displayed on panels on exhibition gallery walls or as part of art object labels. Resource Library articles concerning exhibitions often contain didactic texts. Also see Wall panels.

Fractional gifts are partial gifts of artworks to a museum. From time to time the US tax code may swing between allowing and disallowing fractional giving of art works. In the past, fractional giving has influenced behavior among collectors considering options of donations to government-owned or university museums versus establishment of private museums. Since tax codes change frequently, collectors are advised to obtain professional advice before making any contribution of art. Labels for artworks in an exhibition may indicate fractional gifts. For instance, a Resource Library article titled Taking Place: Photographs from the Prentice and Paul Sack Collection (4/15/05) includes identification of an artwork image with the caption "(left: William Henry Fox Talbot, Paris, 1843; Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, fractional gift of Prentice and Paul Sack, and collection of the Prentice and Paul Sack Photographic Trust)

Gallery guides are lesser in scope than brochures or catalogues and are usually available on a stand or wall container in the galleries of the exhibit. Sometimes they are free to the public and may be taken from the premises. In other instances they are restricted for use in the galleries of the exhibit. Restricted gallery guides may have plastic coatings on the pages to lessen wear and tear due to extensive handling. They sometimes contain artist monographs or thematic texts by named authors. Tablet devices such as the iPad and dedicated readers such as the Kindle and Nook offer readers the option reading a rapidly increasing number of gallery guides freely online, either in whole or part.

Labels (object labels) are identifying text for an artwork placed in a museum gallery room containing an exhibition. Label information may include the name of the artist who created the artwork, the title and dimensions of the object, its media, date of creation, owner, accession number and in some cases a block of didactic (interpretive) text related to the artwork. Labels with didactic text are often named "extended labels" or "extended object labels." Labels are also referred to as "captions" or "tombstones." Resource Library includes labels in some articles concerning exhibitions. If you are interested in reading labels from an exhibition covered by Resource Library, conduct an advanced search typing exhibition title keywords combined with the word "labels"

Permanent collection is a term describing art owned by the museum. A museum's web site usually has a page describing the collection, often with images of selected art works, or in some cases, the entire collection.

Provenance is the history of the ownership and exhibition of an artwork.

Registration is the process of assigning identification and documentation of an artwork for which a museum has permanently or temporarily assumed responsibility; one facet of documentation. A Registrar is a person who has overall responsibility for all functions of the registration or collections management department. According to a City of Mesa, AZ web page "A Museum Registrar is responsible for developing collection policies and supervises the centralized care of the museum collections in accordance with the Museum's mission statement and professional standards set by the American Association of Museums. The Museum Registrar performs a full range of professional duties involved with the management and coordination of the Museum's Collections Area. Serving as a member of the management team, the Museum Registrar resolves issues and works together to form short and long-range goals for the Museum. The person in this position serves along with the Museum Administrator and Curators as one of the members of the Accessions Committee, deciding which objects will be added to the permanent collections."

Special exhibitions, also named temporary exhibitions, are available for viewing for a limited time. A museum's website often has one or more pages describing present, future and past special exhibitions. Special exhibitions usually are shown for weeks to months at a venue. When exhibits are on display for many months, or even years, they may be named installations. Installation is also a word used to describe three dimensional art exhibited in an interior space. When a museum refers to a "permanent" or "ongoing" exhibition, it usually means a display with no set ending date.

Tombstones (see labels)

Traveling exhibitions are organized by a museum and then toured to other museums. There are several motives for organizing a traveling exhibition including income from touring fees, creating more recognition and prestige for the organizing museum, and making artworks accessible to the public while the organizing museum is closed during constriction activity.

Wall panels, also named didactic wall panels, are blocks of didactic text explaining an exhibition that are placed on the walls of a gallery room, or rooms, containing the exhibition. Resource Library includes wall panel texts in some articles concerning exhibitions. If you are interested in reading wall panel texts from an exhibition covered by Resource Library, conduct an advanced search typing exhibition title keywords combined with the phase "wall panel".

The Museum Association of New York Web site contained in 2003 the page "Standards and Best Practices for Museums and Historical Societies Receiving Absolute Charters in New York State and Resource List" listing in Part VII "Useful Definitions" 25 terms. Same of the definitions here are derived from the MANY definitions. 


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