Photographs can do much to document a collection in situ or an artist’s studio. While these locations and their contents should be documented periodically during life, it is even more important to take photographs after death, but before disturbing the collecting environment or studio. In the event that the collection or artist’s works are accepted for donation, these photographs will be of value for publication, exhibition, and the maintenance of an archive.
If possible, the artist’s inventory should include:
• a good digital photograph
• the medium, dimensions, title and description, and the mark or other signature
• signed copies of all agreements of sale, loan agreements, deeds of gift, publishing contracts, grants of rights to others to prepare derivative works or reproductions
• if produced in a limited edition, how many copies were produced and whether the plate or cast was destroyed
• records of all copyright registrations, deposits, notices and whether the work was created as a joint work, a work for hire, or a derivative work
• licenses, grants, and gifts
• exercises of termination rights and any other contractual rights
In addition to the records above, a collector’s inventory might include:
• the name of the seller, the date and place of the purchase, and the cost
• all information regarding provenance and/or prior ownership
• when and where the work has been exhibited
• insurance records
• if stolen, the circumstances of the theft
Gifts (particularly gifts of works of art) should always be documented by deeds of gift to avoid fraudulent postmortem claims by purported recipients. For artists, the inventory should record the expenses incurred in the production of each work to determine tax basis.
A sample inventory/catalog worksheet may include:
HOW ACQUIRED (PURCHASE/GIFT):
OTHER COSTS IN PRODICTION OR ACQUISITION:
(IMAGE OR DIGITAL FILE NAME)
CREATING AN INVENTORY/CATALOG WORKSHEET
An Excel worksheet is the simplest and most widely available inventory form.
- Use a numbering system and tag the item! Many artwork descriptions are virtually identical as to title, medium, or size; the assigned number enables identification. The same numbers should be used to identify photographs, digital files and other documentation relating to each piece.
2. Title: It is best to use quotation marks to distinguish an actual title from the same words used as comments or descriptions (e.g., “untitled” versus untitled).
3. Date: Even if the actual date is unknown, indicate a range or guess.
4. Medium: Generalizations (painting, drawing, etc.) should be avoided in favor of specifics such as “oil on canvas.”
5. Size: It is standard to list height x width x depth in that order.
6. Location: This should be as specific as possible and should be kept current by noting changes. It is helpful to add a “SHIPMENT” or “IN/OUT” column to indicate both temporary changes such as loans, and permanent changes such as sales and gifts.
7. Signature: It is important to record if and where each work is signed.
Even partial documentation can be enormously helpful. It is better to have something than nothing at all.