The Lot of a Registrar: Another Day, Another Challenge

Posted on: February 22, 2018 by

Installing living bees, exhibiting fatbergs and importing 3D printed firearms…just another average day in the life of a registrar it seems!

We were delighted to attend the latest of the regular meetings of the UK Registrars Group (UKRG) on Friday 9th February at Wellcome Collection. Attendees were treated to a fascinating series of talks about projects as diverse as an entirely crowd-sourced ‘Museum of Modern Nature’ (Wellcome Collection), the display of part of a ‘fatberg’ the length of London’s Tower Bridge (Museum of London) and an experience-based installation involving making and serving Thai green curry to hungry visitors (Echelon Arts Management). We also heard about the huge complexities involved in acquiring and displaying The Liberator, the world’s first 3D printed gun (V&A), and the exhibition of Sir Edwin Landseer’s famous Monarch of the Glen in the back of a truck in rural Scotland (National Galleries of Scotland).

It was striking how many thorny legal issues presented themselves to the registrars managing these projects. The Museum of Modern Nature, for example, involved members of the public presenting objects which symbolised what nature meant to them. The objects varied from a bunch of elderflowers to a pair of trainers and a slice of bread (wholemeal, mind you!). All objects required the usual registration and loan/donation documentation which was simplified to take into account the fact that most participants were likely to be first-time lenders. A short video was shot with each participant’s story to accompany their special object, so there were intellectual property issues to consider too.

And what of the fatberg, that 250 metre mass of compressed sewage found deep in the bowels of London’s Victorian sewer system? How did the team at the Museum of London go about their due diligence on that most unusual of exhibits? Well, just as you’d expect, they asked all of the standard questions: Who made it? Who owns it? Can we identify all previous owners?(!) Might there be a risk of third party claims? Waste product or not, the same legal issues reared their ugly heads as with any other exhibit – only some of the answers were a little less transparent than usual!

Liability and insurance issues were key for the curry curation and bee installation, and complex legal considerations of varying types arose in relation to the 3D gun – questions of customs classifications, firearms licensing, copyright in reproductions to name but a few.

It was fascinating to hear about the creative solutions applied to some of these legal quandaries by registrars and their teams, who often had to climb some steep learning curves. What was beyond doubt was that the breadth of knowledge and understanding required of registrars is vast, and expanding in the light of new ways of presenting art, new developments in technology and methods of curation. From tax law to IP, customs questions to the finer points of contract law, insurance to the laws of negligence, the bag of tools registrars need to be able to draw on in their day to day work is bursting at the seams. A basic grounding in these key legal areas is undoubtedly a very useful string to a registrar’s bow.

The Institute of Art and Law provides training in all aspects of art and cultural heritage law. Our next event is a Study Forum on 3 March in central London. UKRG members benefit from a 50% reduction on the price for IAL events and a 10% discount on courses and distance learning programmes.