We’d like to introduce you to She, a sculpture by Bojan Šarčević that will make its DMA debut on May 29 in the Silence and Time contemporary art exhibition. And “she” is a recent acquisition. So that got us thinking: how do works of art enter the Museum’s collections? We spoke with Carol Griffin, our Associate Registrar and the Museum’s point person on the acquisition process, to get some answers.
To begin, DMA curators look specifically for objects based on aesthetic quality, ability to be exhibited, potential for research and scholarship, and relevance to the Museum’s mission and current holdings. They are always searching for works of art to fill certain “gaps” or to complement works that are already in our collections. They find these objects by talking to knowledgeable collectors and art dealers, visiting galleries, and attending art auctions and fairs. Not all acquisitions are purchases, she points out. A significant number of works are acquired by gift and bequest. In many of these cases, curators actively seek the objects; in others, donors serendipitously initiate the offer.
But when a curator has ID-ed something for potential acquisition, he or she will discuss the opportunity with colleagues and advisors, including fellow DMA curators, trustees, and, of course, the Director. Certain works must be examined by a conservator and, perhaps, other experts to verify condition or authenticity. Once these people have signed off, the curator presents a proposal about the work to the Museum’s Committee on Collections, which is made up of trustees and members of the community and meets several times a year. The committee takes into consideration opportunities to strengthen the DMA’s collections, and its members discuss potential issues like storage and maintenance for the proposed works. The artworks under consideration are present at each meeting so that the Committee can see them rather than make judgments based on photographs. Only after all of these steps are completed can a work of art be acquired by the Museum.
Next up, in order for each object to travel to the Museum and be housed safely, the DMA’s team of registrars develops a plan to address logistics—including crating, transportation, insurance, and storage, and dealing with customs regulations if a work is coming from overseas. Each crate is usually custom made, with special material precautions, to best protect an individual object. For example, an ancient marble sculpture needs different packaging than a quilt, a wooden mask, or a painting. Once the work of art arrives at the DMA, our registrars and conservator thoroughly examine its condition, making notes and taking photos to document its present state. The artwork is then catalogued with an acquisition number based on the year and the order in which it was acquired, and a file is created for relevant information and research about the object. Some of this information is included on the label that accompanies a work of art in the galleries and can also be found in the Collections section of the DMA website.
So, what else has the Museum purchased recently? Next time you visit, look for Gustav Stickley’s linen chest from 1903 (currently featured in the exhibition Gustav Stickley and the American Arts & Crafts Movement), which was acquired by the Museum in 2008. In the European galleries, check out the painting Chestnut Trees by Edouard Vuillard, acquired in 2010, and on Level 3, see the gold linguist’s staff (okyeame poma) in our African galleries, which was also acquired in 2010.
Stefanie Kae Dlugosz is the McDermott Curatorial Intern for Decorative Arts and Jacqueline Lincoln is the McDermott Education Intern for Family Experiences.