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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Loving Loan Agreements: Negotiations, complexities and 'no sketching'

When the Guardian released this article on the 22nd April titled 'No Sketching': V&A signs betray everything the museum stands for' by Oliver Wainwright like many I was saddened to hear that the V&A were clamping down on sketching in the exhibition spaces, but it has become clear that not all is what it seems and it is the elusive agreements that museums make with lenders that is the root of the issue.

Museums are sites for reflection and learning and there is no doubt that art museums and galleries hold an important aim in allowing students, researchers and artists of all levels to spend hours in galleries taking inspiration from the objects and works and sketching away. I believe, and have seen from my time in those spaces that this is something that many museums do regularly allow visitors to sketch without much restriction and sometimes even hosting events to facilitate.

But when it comes to temporary exhibitions it's not just the museum's collection at stake, creating a successful exhibition requires curators to lure in the public with an offer of objects they will not usually have the opportunity to see be it from private collections or another museum loans come with their own set of rules and stipulations.

The Guardian article may have played down the importance of the loan agreement in the first instance, later correcting their news story to say that 'it is to do with preventing congestion and the strict loan agreements the museum signs for each new exhibition.'  that influenced the decision to not allow sketching in the temporary exhibition space.

For those of you that are not familiar, the loan agreement is a document that sets out what the lenders and museums obligations are in terms of the transportation, display, insurance and costs associated with the borrowing of an object. Usually the standard contracts cover assurances such as the environmental conditions, a promise that the showcase will not be opened without a courier present and even sometimes the more unusual requests - I once had to add a clause that stated an object would not be DNA tested whilst it was in the museum!

The clauses also cover the IPR, copyright and security of the object and perhaps it was a combination of the three that has reflected in the V&A’s loan agreement that has prompted the no sketching rule. While sketching is an exemption of copyright law many loan agreements refer with presumed knowledge to the complexities of IPR and copyright law and perhaps in fright, some may wish to omit any sort of image taking be it photography or sketching in their agreement. It’s hard to say however without actually checking out the document - which is likely to be stored in a fireproof safe and knowing what loans have requested this omission. Its this same agreement that means that often ' no photography' is allowed in temporary exhibitions.

Whilst it is unfortunate in some respects that the lenders dictations prevent photography, sketching or even DNA testing, without this agreement, and the sometimes complex negotiations that  museum registrars spend time agreeing. It is important to remember that this would not have been a decision that the exhibition team would have taken lightly. And sometimes without these discussions and resolutions agreed in the loan agreement it would not always be possible to borrow and display some of the treasures of private collections and international museums. 

Like many registrars there is a certain level of dislike for complex loan agreements and the sometimes months it takes to iron out the complexities for shows as large as Undressed but we can't deny their importance in securing the rare, beautiful and often never before seen objects for public display.

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