As museums and public galleries carry out their missions, they seek to refine and elevate the quality and relevance of their collections. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) cares for its collections according to the highest standards. Its resources should only be devoted to works of art that serve its mission and are worthy of such care. This occasionally demands that works be judiciously and carefully deaccessioned from the collections. The Art Gallery of Ontario’s Deaccessioning policy follows the guidelines agreed upon by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), as well as the standards of the Canadian Museums Association, the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Curators.
Definitions: Deaccessioning is defined as the process by which a work of art or other object (collectively, a “work”), wholly or in part, is permanently removed from a museum’s collection. Disposal is defined as the transfer or elimination of ownership by the museum after a work has been deaccessioned. After a work has been deaccessioned, disposal may occur by sale, exchange, gift, or destruction, or other methods.
Purpose: Deaccessioning is a legitimate part of the formation and care of collections and is carried out in order to refine and improve the public, community and art historical value of the collections. The proceeds of deaccessioning are to be dedicated to new purchases.
Criteria: A work of art may be removed from the collection for a number of reasons:
- The work does not add significantly to the Gallery's holdings.
- The work is of poor quality and lacks value for exhibition or study purposes. A work of art can also be deaccessioned because of poor condition, such that restoration is either not practical, or would compromise the work’s integrity or the artist’s intent. Works damaged beyond reasonable repair that are not of use for study or teaching purposes may be destroyed.
- The work is no longer consistent with the mission or collecting goals of the Gallery.
- The work is a duplicate that has no value as part of a series.
- The work has been legitimately claimed by a third party.
- The authenticity or attribution of the work is determined to be false or fraudulent and the object lacks sufficient artistic merit or art historical importance to warrant retention. In disposing of or retaining a presumed forgery, the museum shall consider all related ethical issues including the consequences of returning the work to the market.
- The Gallery is unable to care adequately for the work because of the work’s particular requirements for storage or display or its continuing need for special treatment.
- In general, the work is being sold to support the acquisition of a similar but superior object in order to strengthen the Gallery’s collections.
II. Steps for Deaccessioning
- A proposal for deaccessioning originates with the curator responsible for it. If the object falls outside the purview of the curatorial staff, it may originate with a qualified external specialist designated by the chief curator.
- The curator recommends the deaccessioning to the chief curator and the director. If approved, the following steps are taken
- Once it has been determined there are no legal restrictions to deaccessioning, the Gallery will then consult with the donor. If the donor is not living, the donor's heirs or legal representatives will, if feasible, be consulted. The AGO will document and address the questions and concerns raised by this consultation.
- The recommendation for deaccessioning and the method of deaccessioning are presented by the curator (or a designate as per Step 1) to the director, and the chief curator. Upon successful review, the recommendation for deaccessioning is presented to the appropriate Curatorial Working Committee.
- The curator makes a presentation, including an independent appraisal, to the appropriate Curatorial Working Committee. If the work is worth more than $50,000, two appraisals should be presented.
- All works recommended for deaccessioning are then forwarded to the Collections Committee of the AGO Board of Trustees for approval.
- The AGO Board of Trustees has delegated its authority to the Collections Committee to approve all acquisitions and deaccessioning on behalf of the board.
III. Disposal Policy
We may dispose of objects by sale at public auction or to other recipients as recommended by the curator (or designate as per Step 1). Objects may be offered to sister institutions in Canada, by gift, exchange or sale, before disposal by other methods are considered. Only public institutions may be the recipients of gifts of deaccessioned works. At no time should anyone connected with the Gallery be permitted to acquire a deaccessioned work of art directly from the Gallery.
Steps for Disposal
- The curator’s proposed method of disposal must be approved by the director and the chief curator. If the object is to be given to a sister institution in Canada as gift or in an exchange, the approval of the Collections Committee is required.
- The proceeds of deaccessioning are to be dedicated to new purchases. In general, the proceeds are directed to the relevant art purchase fund in the collecting area from which the deaccessioning proposal originated.
- All acts of deaccessioning and disposal will be reported to the membership at the annual meeting of the Art Gallery of Ontario and on the gallery’s website on a regular basis, as appropriate.
The following international, federal, and provincial legislations and professional practices in matters concerning deaccessioning bind the Gallery:
- Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague Convention, 1954)
- Convention of the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (The UNESCO Convention 1970)
- Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 1975
- Cultural Property Export and Import Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-51) and as amended
- Income Tax Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. 1 (5th Supp.)) and as amended
- Endangered Species Act 2007
- Ontario Heritage Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. 0.18
- Foreign Cultural Objects Immunity from Seizure Act R.S.O. 1990, Chapter F.23
- Professional Practices
- Professional Practices in Art Museums, Association of Art Museum Directors, 2001
- Ethics Guidelines, Canadian Museums Association, 2006
- Code of Ethics for Museums, American Association of Museums, 2000
- ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, International Council of Museums, 2006
Approved by the AGO Board of Trustees: November 15, 2017