Shaping an Art Collection: "Scope of Collection" Policy

with an emphasis on American Representational Art


Whether the collector is an individual, commercial enterprise or museum, a "scope of collection" policy is useful in order for the collection to have cohesion and best serve the intent of the owner. For large collections, whether private of institutional, the owner also often establishes a complete collection management policy, as described in the."Mission, Organization and Accreditation" section of TFAO's Museums Explained. The scope of collection is a section of the collection management policy.

What can be included as elements of a scope of collection? There are several approaches by which future acquisitions can be screened or present holdings evaluated for removal from the collection. Over time, the scope of collection may gradually drift due to influences of curators, directors, donors and other factors. In order to prevent confusion as time passes by, it's best to formally periodically revisit the scope of collection.

Screening for potential acquisitions may be done in various ways. A common approach is to establish levels of screening, whereby the broadest criteria serves as the first screen, and successive screens refine the evaluation of an art object. Screens may include objective criteria including:

Artists. For example, America's Distinguished Artists is a listing of notable deceased American artists. Early works, mid-career and later works by an artist may be criteria.
Budget. Limits of price.
Care requirements. Special storage and display requirements due to weight, fragility and materials composition.
Geography. A collection may focus on a country, region of a country, state, county or set of counties, etc. See California Art History and Regionalism as examples.
Medium. Basketry, Decorative arts: 18-19th Century, 19-20th Century, 20-21st Century, Glass, Quilts, Sculpture: 18-19th Century, 19-20th Century, 20-21st Century, are examples.
Periods and events in history. Historic Art Colonies, Historic International Exhibitions, New Deal Art are examples.
Physical condition. Amount and cost of conservation work required.
Provenance. The succession of ownership and related quality of title.
Size. Height, width and depth.
Style. Fauvism, Impressionism, Luminism, Modernism, Photo-Realism and other "isms" are examples.
Topics and themes. African American Art, Folk Art, Marine and Maritime Art: 18-19th Century, 19-20th Century, 20-21st Century, Patriotism are examples. Physical landmarks including mountains, rivers, harbors, buildings and streetscapes may also be themes.

In addition to objective criteria, potential acquisitions are always judged for aesthetic merit, a subjective exercise.


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