Managing multiple loans for exhibition

What are the registration aspects involved in managing multiple loans for an exhibition?

This paper discusses the registration aspects involved in managing multiple loans for an exhibition. It refers specifically to a case study, The Medieval Imagination, Illuminated manuscripts from Cambridge, Australia & New Zealand, which is the most recent exhibition held at the State Library of Victoria from 28 March to 15 June 2008.

This is the first major international exhibition at the Library. The exhibition showcases over 100 hundred objects, with 91 loans from 3 different countries – the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. Half of the items have come from Cambridge University, with the remainder from distinguished collections in Australia and New Zealand. This exhibition is a celebration of the art of the hand-written book, or manuscript, and includes examples of deluxe book production from Byzantium, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The works on display include traditional sacred texts as well as works of music, law, history, science and literature.

The following six key points will be covered in this article:

  • Loan agreements and conditions, as set out by the lenders and how special loan requirements were met
  • Specific insurance arrangements for the exhibition, involving a combination of State Indemnity and commercial insurance
  • Co-ordination of the transport logistics and freight, which formed a major component in organising the loans for the exhibition
  • Courier arrangements, whose duties were to oversee the transportation, condition reporting and installation of their loans
  • Budgeting requirements for the exhibition and the subsequent sponsorship partnerships that were formed
  • Scheduling involved in managing the installation of the exhibition


A total of eighteen lenders contributed to The Medieval Imagination. The major international lenders were from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Loans came from four different collections with the university, the Fitzwilliam Museum; Cambridge University Library; Corpus Christi College; and Trinity College. Many of the objects had not previously left the United Kingdom, let alone travelled across the equator. For the Fitzwilliam Museum it was the largest loan from their collection to another institution that they had ever agreed to.

Prior to The Medieval Imagination, the Library did not have a borrowing history with Cambridge University. With the exception of the Fitzwilliam Museum, none of the lenders had registrars, so establishing and maintaining the appropriate lines of contact was in some instances quite challenging. Difficulty was increased by the time difference, which meant emailing was the most immediate form of communication.

Further international loans were secured from cultural institutions in New Zealand, the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington; Auckland City Libraries; Dunedin Public Libraries; and the John Kinder Theological Library also located in Auckland. Again, we did not have a borrowing history with any of these lenders, nor were the logistical challenges involved in air freighting material from New Zealand anticipated.

Ten institutions within Australia also lent to the exhibition. The Library had previously established borrowing relationships with most of these institutions. This enabled negotiations to combine couriers to act on behalf of other lenders from the same city. We borrowed from the following collections; Australian National University Library, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Fisher Library, University of Sydney, Franciscan Monastery at St Pascal’s College, National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, State Library of New South Wales, and State Library of South Australia.

Loan Agreements and Conditions

The first crucial stage in managing the loans for this exhibition was ensuring that all of the loan agreements were signed and all loan conditions met. This process took approximately twelve months to complete and was formalised through outward loan documentation issued by the lenders or inward loan documents issued by the Library. In general the conditions of loan were to industry standards and the same conditions that we would impose on borrowers from our collection. However, there were two conditions from one of our United Kingdom lenders which necessitated further negotiation in order for the loans to proceed.

Immunity from Seizure

This lender required a legally binding document guaranteeing their loans against any claims of ownership, and subsequentseizure, whilst on exhibition in Australia. Being able to provide immunity from seizure is increasingly becoming an essential requirement when borrowing from Europe. Without this guarantee loans can be withdrawn and exhibitions cancelled. A most recent example of this occurred between Britain and Russia with the From Russia exhibition that was held at the Royal Academy of the Arts in London in early 2008. Moscow claimed there was a risk of the paintings being seized and used to compensate people who lost their property during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Without the British Government granting immunity from seizure, the loans to this exhibition would have been cancelled. In order to ensure that the exhibition went ahead, the Culture Secretary ordered the implementation of a new law in time for the exhibition’s scheduled opening. This new law grants immunity from seizure to all foreign artistic property on temporary display in Britain.

In regards to the loans for The Medieval Imagination, there were no questions in relation to the history of title or provenance of the material. Furthermore, Australian legislation does not provide such an anti seizure statute which grants immunity to works of non Australian cultural heritage from legal processes whilst on exhibition. As federal law, Australia has the Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 which provides systems of export permits for Australian protected objects. Under this act applicants can apply for a certificate of exemption, which allows Australian protected objects that are currently overseas to be imported into Australia and subsequently exported. In lieu of this, and after discussions with the lender, any legal process was considered a low risk and a waiver was granted for this condition.

Terrorism Insurance cover

This lender also required both static and transit terrorism cover. Our current Exhibition Fine Arts Policy provides terrorism cover in transit but not as static cover. After discussions with our insurance agent, Victorian Managed Insurance Authority (VMIA), there were two options that became apparent. One was to apply to the Department of Treasury and Finance for the Treasurer’s Deed of Indemnity which underwrites exclusions in commercial insurance. The second option was to gain commercial insurance for static terror cover. VMIA investigated this possibility and were able to grant this cover. They subsequently also provided partial sponsorship for The Medieval Imagination. Arts Victoria Indemnity was also sought and granted with the insurance arrangements being a combination of indemnity and commercial insurance.

Freight and Transport

The next major stage in coordinating the loans was transport logistics and freight. The freight agent engaged for the project was Global Specialised Services. After seeking competitive quotes, the decision was made to air freight the interstate loans along with the international loans.

Specific requirements for the air freighting and the type of aircraft required were set. The aircraft had to be wide bodied with the capacity to hold palletised crates that could lock in unit loaded devices. Due to security and safety reasons, a strong preference was given to crating objects, as opposed to hand carrying them. Once the material is not considered hold freight, it is reliant on the discretion of the ariline as to whether items can be handcarried on board the flight. With security requirements restricting carry on items, and being subject to change, airlines cannot guarantee that a handcarry will always be accepted. Most of the loans for Medieval Imagination were crated with the exception of three handcarries.

Despite the preference for crating over hand carrying, it became evident when arranging transport from New Zealand that some compromise was required. Objects were to be transported from Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland, however, wide bodied aircraft only fly out of Auckland. This left the following two options. The loans could be transported in dedicated climate controlled trucks to Auckland where they could be airfreighted to Melbourne. A one way truck journey to Auckland was quoted at around $35 000. This was an unrealistic cost for the budget; and with the loans being integral to the curatorial content of the exhibition, an alternative solution needed to be sought. Fortunately, the small size of the items meant that they could be hand carried. In the regards to the Wellington loan, this was straightforward as it was a single manuscript with the courier able to pack the display support into his check in luggage. The Dunedin loan however was more complex. The objects were all loose vellum manuscript leaves that required mounting and framing for display. For them to travel as a hand carry meant that the display preparation would need to occur at the Library. Discussions between the lender and the Library’s conservation department were held, and a method of mounting and framing was agreed upon. The loans travelled unframed, will be removed from thier frames and mounts for the return journey at the close of the exhibition. Additional time and staff resources were factored into the installation period to permit the preparation of this material.


All of the consignments were accompanied by a courier representing the lending institutions to supervise the packing, transport, condition reporting and installation. There were a total of thirty couriers for The Medieval Imagination, this figure is inclusive of both the installation and deinstallation couriers.

There were fourteen couriers from the United Kingdom. Although many of the objects were borrowed from Cambridge University, we had separate loan agreements with each of the four collections, and all were treated as individual lenders. In many instances, these objects had never travelled before and we were sympathetic to the lenders’ courier requirements. Sponsorship from Qantas was obtained for all of the international business class flights.

There were six couriers from New Zealand flying a combination of business and economy flights dependant on whether they were hand carrying loans.

There were ten couriers from within Australia, who were all booked on fully flexible economy flights. We were able to combine some interstate couriers with the National Library of Australia and the State Library of New South Wales representing other collections within their respective cities.

The Library provided accommodation and per diems for all couriers whilst they were on duty. Additional accommodation sponsorship was granted by Mirvac. Individual courier packs were produced providing detailed information regarding their travel itineraries, installation schedules, accommodation details and associated events.


A preliminary budget for this project was drafted in March 2007. Quotations were sought to cover the costs that the Library would bear in association with the loans. This was inclusive of loan fees, conservation treatment, condition reporting, display support construction, packing and freight. The courier expenses included per diems, accommodation and flights.

Due to the high value of the material on loan we recognised that the insurance premium for the exhibition would be one of the greatest costs. Estimated values were sought from the lenders and advice of an approximate insurance premium amount was issued by VMIA. The final premium amount for this exhibition was determined after advice of final values was received from the lenders.

Installation Scheduling

With exhibition dates for The Medieval Imagination set, a draft installation schedule was produced in March 2007, a year prior to the opening. The installation period was reduced as the Labour Day and Easter public holidays impacted on the available time frame. Although the installation period stretched over two weeks, only eight working days were available. Furthermore, as our couriers in the United Kingdom had academic teaching commitments, the bulk of the objects arrived in the second half of the installation period. This further shortened any contingency time if flights were unexpectedly delayed or cancelled.

There were additional factors that contributed to the schedule. The Library allows a four day off gassing period whenever the gallery is repainted. A twenty four hour acclimatisation period prior to unpacking the loan material was also taken into account. As the objects were made from vellum, which is animal skin, leather and wooden boards, a quarantine check needed to be facilitated with an AQIS officer performing an onsite check. Furthermore, our conservation department needed time to mount and frame twenty nine items for display. Increased security was also put into place which restricted access into the gallery space during installation.

At the time of writing this article, the exhibition is yet to be de-installed and at this stage a five day demount period has been allocated for the pack up of the loans and courier returns. The exhibition is currently on display and experiencing high visitor numbers. A conservation monitoring schedule has been established to perform daily checks of the objects prior to the gallery opening to the public.


The Library intends to have an international exhibition every three years. The great advantage with this project was that we had sufficient lead time. A fifteen month period was allowed from when the first loan requests were issued, to the commencement of installation. With cultural institutions increasing the required notification period for loan requests to twelve months, a project of this scale necessitates ample lead time. Through the loans to this exhibition, The Medieval Imagination has encouraged and developed collaborations between cultural institutions that previously did not exist. It has provided the public free of charge access to medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts dating from the 8th to the 16th centuries, which offers a wealth of information on art and learning, and provides fascinating insights into the life and times of the medieval and Renaissance periods. This in essence is the goal of loan exhibitions; to work towards a common cultural aim of providing access to culturally rich heritage collections.


By Catherine McFarlane, Registrar Exhibitions & Loans at the State Library of Victoria

Catherine McFarlane