Collection Management: The First Step

"Art is Business"- Reference: ART News/Summer 2005 Collection Management Checklist   by Vivian Ebersman, Director of Art Expertise AXA ART Collection Management Series

I am providing this information to artists, collectors, and curators doing business with the Phantom Galleries, as galleries I feel it is invaluable that we continue to gather information and advice from experts in the field. I am currently taking a self inventory of my collection, and my own personal artwork, as part of my estate planning.  Artwork that has betrusted to me for my collection, prior to incorporation."  
AXA Art Collection- page image

  1. Collection management is an ongoing process. Start by documenting and tracking relevant information.
  2. Maintain a file for each work. Records can be paper, electronic, or a mixture.
  3. Attend the exhibitions of the artists you collect. Clip their reviews.
  4. Turn to a certified appraiser when you need specific information about value. 
  5. Decide whether you need Fair Market Value or Insurance Replacement Value. If  you send a work for conservation, obtain the conservator’s report for your file.

ü  Research

ü  Documenting each work

ü  Tracking

ü  Checklist

You’ve assembled a collection. How do you look after it?

First of all this is an ongoing process extending form roper installation and the right inns coverage to planning for subsequent stewardship. A conservator, appraiser, and attorney may all play a role.

Documenting each work

A good first step is documenting and tracking relevant information. Maintain a separated file for each work. Include the purchase invoice with date and seller. Ask the gallery or auction house for available photographs as well as exhibition and conservation histories. Take color photographs of the back and front of a painting and several angles of a three dimensional object.

Record information on the back of the photograph as it will be hidden once the painting is framed. Train your eye to detect all nuances about the baseline condition of each object is there an anomalous patch of paint? Do striations appear in the patina of a bronze sculpture? Date all observations. Finish by completing the checklist on the next page.

 Your records can be paper, electronic, or a mixture. With a simple spreadsheet Microsoft Access database or off the shelf collection management software. You can create reports with ease. Plan to store a copy of your data in a separate location.  Although you may prune works from your collection, keep the records. They are a valuable part of your collection history.

Learn all you can about the content or meaning of each work and the times in which it was made. Research the artist’s biography. Make it a goal to visit exhibitions of artists you collect. Clip and save their reviews from newspapers, magazines and on-line. Follow their stylistic development. Whose works are like theirs? What periods within their work are considered most important? Challenge yourself to grasp the details as well as the larger picture.

You will want be aware of the market conditions for the areas in which you collect. Are values climbing, falling, or remaining stable? This information will guide many decisions, from insurance and gifting to security and estate planning.  Auction catalogues as well as on-line auction databases such as,, or provide a useful range of pricing for paintings and sculptures. follows furniture and decorative arts as well.

 For a more precise figure turn to a certified appraiser. Specify whether you require fair market value (the basis – with adjustments—for taxes, gifts, and donations) or replacement value (for insurance). Fair Market Value is equivalent to the price likely to be received at auction. Replacement value is usually higher, and can be thought of as an objects’ retail price. It is wise to have a collection re-appraised every five years or so. As the foregoing suggests, good collection management is the rational side of collecting. Yet its rewards are also satisfying, and it yields a fine result: a collection secured for the ages.

Below is essential information to record about each item in your collection. Find a similar checklist at AXA-ART 
  • Artist/Maker
  • Dates of Artist/Maker
  • Title of Work
  • Description of Subject Matter or Type of Work
  • Date of Work
  • Materials
  • Dimensions
Condition: Describe the object’s surface, and carefully note any changes during periodic re-examinations. If you send a work for conservation, obtain the conservator’s report and file it. Note in your record the date of the report and that you have added it to the file.

Inscriptions and Markings: Examine the back as well as the front of every two-dimensional work. Record earlier labels, inventory numbers, artist signatures and all other writing.

Distinguishing Features
Location of object: Especially important if you have more than one residence.

Display: Who framed or mounted it? How is it secured?

Provenance: What is the collection history of the object? To whom did it previously belong? Pay special attention to antiquities and to any work created before 1946 thought to been in Europe after 1932.

Bibliography: Is your work cited in the catalogue raisonne’ (: a systematic annotated catalog; especially: a critical bibliography) of the artist? This will definitely affect valuation, as authentication, frequently depends on a work’s inclusion in the accepted a catalogue raisonne’. Are there other citations?

Exhibition History: If possible file a copy of the catalogue of any show in which a work has appeared. Otherwise make a

copy of the complete reference including dates and location.
Purchase Price and Date
Appraisal History

Loan History: Record exhibition dates, venues and the value placed on the work at the time of the loan. Make notes about its condition report form each location.