The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is committed to excellence in the acquisition of art for present and future generations. The AGO supports and protects its collections through its commitment to the highest professional standards of scholarship, exhibition, interpretation, education, conservation, preservation, registration and security.
The Acquisition Policy (the “Policy”) provides guidance on the acquisition of works of art into the collection of the AGO (the “Gallery”). The Gallery adheres to best museum practices in its collecting activities in compliance with relevant laws, policies and ethical guidelines. This Policy follows those guidelines agreed upon by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), and the standards of the Canadian Museums Association, the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Curators.
Definitions: An acquisition constitutes the addition of an object/work of art into the collection whereby the ownership of that object is transferred or intended to be transferred to the Gallery. A work of art may be acquired by purchase, commission, or gift (including bequest). Individual works and collections may also be acquired as a combination purchase/gift or commission. This Policy is complemented by the Gallery’s Deaccessioning Policy and Gift Acceptance Policy.
Criteria: An object will only be accessioned into the Gallery’s collection if the following conditions are met:
- The object must be consistent with the mission or collecting goals of the Gallery.
- The Gallery must possess the resources to properly care for, interpret, and maintain the object, or have a reasonable expectation of obtaining them. An object should only be considered for acquisition if the Gallery can ensure proper care and preservation according to generally accepted museum practices.
- The Gallery must exercise due diligence in determining legal title and ownership. The object must have a fully documented provenance, source, and authenticity where possible, and must be ethically acceptable.
- The object must be accompanied by valuation(s), where possible.
- Donations must be free of any unreasonable conditions or restrictions imposed by the donors regarding the Gallery’s use of the objects.
- The Gallery must be satisfied that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the object is stolen or illegally acquired, collected or imported.
- All donations to the Gallery’s collection are irrevocable upon the official transfer of title to the Gallery.
II. Authority of the Acquisition Policy
The role of the Collections Committee includes the approval of acquisitions of works of art, as recommended by Curatorial Working Committees, within the policy guidelines established by the AGO Board of Trustees (the “Board). The Board has established the following limits for purchases of works of art:
- Purchases $2,500 or under: Lead curators may approve acquisitions where the purchase price is $2,500 or under.
- Purchases $15,000 or under: The Director & CEO or Deputy Director & Chief Curator may approve acquisitions where the purchase price is $15,000 or under.
- Purchases of less than $1,500,000: The Collections Committee, as recommended by the Curatorial Working Committees, may approve acquisitions where the purchase price is less than $1,500,000. Notwithstanding the foregoing, during Art Toronto, the Director & CEO and Deputy Director & Chief Curator may approve purchases from Art Toronto totalling $50,000 or under, in consultation with the Collections Committee Chair.
- Purchases of $1,500,000 and over: All acquisitions where the purchase price is $1,500,000 or more must be approved by the Board, as recommended by the Collections Committee.
For the purposes of the dollar ceilings expressed above, “purchase price” refers to the total transaction price for the work(s) of art to be acquired, and where applicable, includes auction house buyer’s premiums.
Acquisitions by gift are approved by the Collections Committee, as recommended by Curatorial Working Committees.
III. Acquisition Procedures
- Acquisitions are determined through a formal process. Recommendations for acquisitions are brought forward by the relevant curator, in consultation with the Director & CEO and Chief Curator, and are presented to the appropriate Curatorial Working Committee.
- All acquisition considerations, whether by purchase, commission, or gift, require a detailed research report, which includes a description of the work, attribution, date, dimensions, provenance, condition and importance and relevance to the collection.
- Proposals for acquisitions are vetted by the appropriate Curatorial Working Committee for recommendation to the Collections Committee. Notwithstanding the foregoing, any proposed commissions must follow the approval stages outlined in Section IV.6.
- The Collections Committee meets at least three times a year to review acquisition recommendations. Acquisition proposals are brought forward by the Director & CEO and the Chief Curator and are accepted or declined by a majority vote of the Collections Committee or the Board based on the authority limits outlined in Section III.
- Acquisition activities are reported to the membership at the annual meeting of the AGO and in the Gallery’s annual report, as appropriate.
- The Gallery may, on occasion, commission works of art. The purchase of such works will proceed in two separate approval stages as follows:
Stage One: Approval to solicit a proposal for a commissioned work from an artist
A written document that: outlines the argument for soliciting an artist for the commission, describes the type of work proposed, and includes a cost estimate for the development of the proposal, will be presented to the Collections Committee. If approved by the Collections Committee, the Gallery may disburse up to a maximum of $50,000 towards the preparation of a Commission Proposal.
Stage Two: Approval to commission the work of art
After the plans or model have been completed and the total purchase price – including costs of fabrication, technical consultation and installation, and any other related costs – is firmly established, the curator will present the Commission Proposal, including a written justification as described above, to the appropriate Curatorial Working Committee for recommendation to the Collections Committee. Commission Proposals are brought forward by the Director & CEO and the Chief Curator and are accepted or declined by a majority vote of the Collections Committee or the Board based on the limits for commissions outlined below. Any commissioned work requires a written commission agreement that deals, amongst other things, with price and timing of payments, cost overruns, final approvals, timelines, transfer of title, and insurance.
The Board has established the following limits for commissions of works of art:
- Commissions less than $1,500,000: The Collections Committee, as recommended by the Curatorial Working Committees, may approve all commissions where the purchase price is less than $1,500,000.
- Commissions of $1,500,000 and over: All commissions where the purchase price is $1,500,000 or more must be approved by the Board, as recommended by the Collections Committee.
For the purposes of the dollar ceilings expressed above, “purchase price” refers to the total purchase price for the commission to be acquired.
IV. Public Art
If an acquisition, whether a purchase, commission, or gift, is intended for permanent or long-term installation beyond normal gallery display, particularly if it is intended for an outdoor location, additional factors must be considered, including location, installation, safety, and on-going maintenance. In addition to the criteria applicable to all objects in the permanent collection, the acquisition, management and care of public art will require approval of the Board, as recommended by the Collections Committee.
Under exceptional circumstances, such as works of art available at auction for less than $1,500,000, the Director & CEO may bring forward acquisitions directly to the Collections Committee without presentation to the relevant Curatorial Working Committee.
Once acquired, the object is accessioned, catalogued and documented as per the Gallery’s standard procedures and in accordance with recognized professional standards and best practices for collections management.
VII. Gift Acceptance
All acquisitions by gift or bequest are also subject to the provisions of the Gallery’s Gift Acceptance Policy.
The Gallery is unable to accept all donations of works of art offered. If the artwork does not meet the Gallery’s acquisition criteria and mission, other potential institutions will be recommended, if requested.
VIII. Staff Policies Related to Acquisitions
As part of a commitment to standard museum ethics guidelines, Gallery staff must act in an ethical manner and shall avoid activities that could be construed as an actual, potential or perceived conflict of interest with respect to that of the Gallery.
The Gallery recognizes that its employees may collect works of art; employees have the right to pursue personal collecting provided it does not conflict with the Gallery’s interests. An employee who learns of an object available for purchase that is likely to be of interest to the Gallery may not knowingly compete with the Gallery and is expected to put the Gallery’s interests ahead of their own in acquiring the object. Gallery staff, their relatives, or associates may not knowingly acquire objects deaccessioned from the Gallery’s collection.
The Gallery does not provide appraisals for works of art for tax deductions or other external purposes. Gallery staff may recommend that donors obtain appraisals from the Art Dealers Association of Canada (ADAC), the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), or other qualified appraisers. In all cases, appraisals of objects must be executed by qualified individuals acting at arm’s length.
The Gallery reserves the right to deaccession objects from the permanent collection, under certain conditions and with certain restrictions. The procedures for deaccessioning have been approved by the AGO Board of Trustees and are outlined in the Gallery’s Deaccessioning Policy.
X. Review of Acquisition Policy
In order to ensure continued relevance, it is understood that the Gallery's Acquisition Policy will be reviewed regularly by the AGO Board of Trustees.
XI. Conventions/Legislation/Professional Practices
The Gallery abides by all applicable international Conventions, federal and provincial legislation, treaty obligations and will guard against any direct or indirect participation in the illicit traffic in cultural or natural objects. The following international, federal, and provincial legislation and professional practices in matters concerning acquisitions guide the Gallery:
- Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (The Hague Convention, 1954)
- Convention on 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. O.18
- Foreign Cultural Objects Immunity from Seizure Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.23
- Professional Practices
- Professional Practices in Art Museums, Association of Art Museum Directors, 2001 and as amended
- 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
- Report of the AAMD Subcommittee on the Acquisition and Stewardship of Sacred Objects, Association of Art Museum Directors, 2006
- Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art, Association of Art Museum Directors, 2013
Approved by the AGO Board of Trustees: February 3, 2021