All posts by Angela

Museum professional, lover of all collections work, former collections manager of the TECHNOSEUM in Mannheim, Germany. Now Professional Services Specialist for Gallery Systems. Independent museum professional. Cat wrangler and #SciFi enthusiast. Views are my own. Of course, they are. I can't make anybody responsible for the garbage my brain produces!

Size does matter!

This paper machine was measured a few times before being transported.

This paper machine was measured a few times before being transported.

If you want to hear museum people moan, just say “measuring”. Everybody has a story about it. Murphy of Murphy’s Law seems to linger around our tape measures, folding rules and distance meters. Not all stories are as extreme as the story shown in the pictures. The paper machine was measured again and again because it was obvious it was the most difficult thing to move in the great storage relocation. We had a technical documentation. We had specialists in heavy loads for this, experienced in much more problematic cases than our “little” paper machine. We had confidence in our abilities as professionals when we supervised this part of the machine being craned on the low-bed trailer. It was not until then we realized the machine didn’t fit through the gate when standing on the low-bed trailer. It wasn’t much, maybe a few inches. It seemed that the inaccurancies in measurements (height of the machine part, height of the trailer, height of the gate) just added up to the worst case. There was no denying – we had a problem.

On the flat-bed trailer the machine didn't fit through our gate. The riggers had to be creative...

On the flat-bed trailer the machine didn’t fit through our gate. The riggers had to be creative…

Fortunately, we had experienced heavy load riggers. After a few discussions we decided to crane the machine on wheel boards and push it carefully through the gate. It worked. After passing the gate the paper machine was craned back on the low-bed trailer and moved to its new home.

Don't let your eyes fool you: Now it seems obvious that it doesn't fit through the gate, but that's only due to perspective. In reality it were only about 4 cm missing.

Don’t let your eyes fool you: Now it seems obvious that it doesn’t fit through the gate, but that’s only due to perspective. In reality it were only about 4 cm missing.

Other cases in wrong measurements are less spectacular, but the problems caused are sometimes bigger. I don’t know why, but some people tend to round down when it comes to measuring. Not particulary helpful, especially if you have a crate builder or a showcase designer who has the same tendency…

A special problem appears when you work with international partners. In the European Union, measuring in the metric system is common practice, whereas the UK and the USA use their own system (Imperial units and United States customary units, which vary in some cases). You normally keep this in mind as a registrar but misunderstandings are bound to happen anyway. I remember one case when a hardly readable fax with object data reached us. Looking back it sounds weird but for a long time we planned that something will arrive in a small box of approximately 50 x 20 x 21 centimetres (20 x 8 x 8 inches). When the estimated shipping costs were faxed we were shocked by the amount given. It was then that we re-read the fax, realizing that we misinterpreted it. Yeah, the sign behind the measures was NOT a double prime (“) it was just a normal prime (‘). The small sign that seperates the inch (1” = 2.54 cm) from the foot (1′ = 30.48 cm). We were not going to receive a neat little crate, we were going to receive a veritable 20’ container…



Digital Media, University Didactics and Cultural Cannibalism: Reflections of an exiled Latin professor

January 2013

“If you don’t know the answer, argue the question” (Clifford Geertz)

In anthropological language the “native” is a local being, the one who belongs to the land and is the first inhabitant of a place, whereas an “immigrant” is a stranger or foreigner who comes from the outside to take the place of the native or to occupy his territory. It’s like a Hollywood cowboys and indians movie, in which the indian is played by Elvis Presley and his indigenous mother by a latin as Dolores de los Rios!

It is interesting to note that the language of the cyberculture or the cyberspace employs, thus, the reificated concepts by occidental culture about colonialism and imperialism: in this new cybercontext, the “native” is that who was born inside a digital order and therefore reasons according to that logic, whilst the “immigrant” is being displaced from the bookish medieval-renaissance culture to the cyberculture still keeping one foot here and another there.

How this culture stays on cyberspace if we think about the large number of grammar and digital illiterate people of Latin America? Néstor García Canclini, in books such as Diferentes, Desiguais e Desconectados, Editora UFRJ, 2005, explores the contradictions of South American indigenous populations using the internet without at least being taught to read and write! As an anthropologist and educator, this seems a relevant question to be discussed: how to enter in the digital era, of global or international character, without losing regional references of Brazilian culture, inspiring me here on the stance of “cultural cannibalism” of Oswald Andrade?
As a way to stimulate my students to develop a critical sense -the goal of every college education- I’ve been developing a product of visual creation in Art-Education, in which I deal with the importance of devouring the cyberculture in a critical way and return it re-changed, according to a local “native” language. It seems to me that this remarkable question is never emphasized when it comes to speak about cyberculture: could it be possible that all the cultural statutes represented there, apparently in a democratic way obtain the same socioeconomic preponderance when swallowed?
Then, how to introduce a context of “critical cannibalism” along with the students? That is, how to awaken on them an aesthetic sense (in a platonic way) of concepts? How to make them separate the wheat from the chaff amidst the digital media crowded chaos, which is inevitably surpassed by the capitalist, imperialist and colonialist logic of the European and North American first world?
Philosophical and humanisitic questions of first order, partners: would it be possible that what a typical “digital native” thinks is relevant, pertinent, politically and ethically correct and can make the world change for best? Or, still more important, which is the real didactic contribution that the teacher’s erudite knowledge can make in relation to the majority of the sub -information transmitted by the digital media in today world?
Dinah Papi Guimaraens – PhD in Architecture and Urbanism by Universidade Federal Fluminense and Director and Associate Founder of Museu de Arte e Origens, NYC (PhD by Post graduate program in Social Anthropology -Museu Nacional- UFRJ and New York University – Museum Studies Program /Fullbright Scholar; PhD, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, USA)
Translated by Araceli Galán


Serious business

Which way is up? No way to get it right with these signs…

Yes, a registrar’s work is serious business. All those valuable objects in our collection, all those tasks in documenting, we registrars are very serious and no-nonsense, right? Right! Why is it then that sometimes at a meeting you see the registrar’s team caught in helpless giggling? Because our job is crammed with unintended humor!

I remember that one day a crate for an exhibition arrived that said “This side up” on two totally different sides. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken a picture. You can imagine how happy I was to receive the picture on the left hand side taken by Noel Valentin of El Museo del Barrio, New York.

Not to mention the humor you can take out of data base entries. How about “Knife with missing blade and missing haft”? I guess it’s a smart way to tell us that this object was a total loss. Or a note I found in the “condition” field of our data base saying “needs vacuuming”. We have the vacuum cleaner always at hand so I guess it took more time making the entry than actually vacuuming the object… And then there are condition reports. I remember a colleague mailed she actually found “ugly, but durable” in one report.

"Close door! Because of climate" Registrar's do something against climate change!

“Close door! Because of climate” Registrar’s do something against climate change!

I love stupid inscriptions best. I try to make photos every time I see something stupid written on something. I lost a personal favorite, a box which was marked with “Vorsicht Inhalt” (“Caution content!”). It turned out that it contained a fire extinguisher for a car and the inscription was a warning not to throw away the box (which was a box for a bottle of wine) because there was a valuable still undocumented artifact inside! Well, from the inscription I expected something with at least asbestos or quicksilver…

What I found is the one you can see on the right hand side which reads “Close door! Because of climate”. Of course we all know what was meant by this sign: the door should be kept shut because of the temperature and the relative humidity that has to be kept stable in the room behind. But somehow, with all the discussions about climate change… well, it looks like a quite simple solution.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who is fond of unintended humor concerning registrar’s work. Take a look at this wonderful film “Stuff Museum People Say” that the Atlanta History Center made: In 1:23 you can see a scene quite typical for a registrar: a staff member hurts herself and the registrar shouts “Bleed away from the artifacts!”

Oh yeah, and then there are the failures when it comes to storing objects. Liz Walton made a blog out of this: Art Storage Fail. Enjoy, and if you have something that fits: submit it to her.

Let me close this post with two unintentionally humorous postcards I received from our chimney sweeper. Our outside storage collection deposits are not staffed 24/7. He learned this from the many, many times he came to do the yearly check-up and nobody was there. So now he sends a postcard first to make an appointment. The first one I received read: “I’m coming February 25 at 10:15 a.m. or on the following days”. After he didn’t show up on the 25 I called him up to make the appointment for February 26, 11 o’ clock and everything went fine. The following year I received a postcard “We are coming in February. Please do not wait, we will call you to make an appointment.” Again, all went fine after we phoned but until today I can’t get the picture out of my head of someone waiting the whole February for a chimney sweeper to arrive…



How I became a museum registrar II

A vagabond in the museum field

Angela Kipp

picture by Bernd Kiessling

View of my recent working place.
HDR photo by Bernd Kießling

This should better read: How I realized that I was a registrar, but let’s start at the beginning…

I always loved old stuff and I climbed castles and went to museums as long as I can remember. So it was somehow logical that I chose museum studies when school was finished. By the way, my job center agent considered it a very dumb idea… Anyway, I decided to study in Berlin, at the „Fachhochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft“ (FHTW, University of Applied Sciences). This meant that I had to do 6 months of internship at a museum or archive to fulfill the entry requirements.

I did this in the Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit (museum for technology and work) in Mannheim. This was the first time I came into contact with the work in museum collections because one of my tasks was to document a collection of about 500 tin cans, reaching from very tiny medication containers to large coffee containers.

The advantage of this internship was not only that I was accepted as a student of museum studies in Berlin in the fall of 1998, but also that I had a museum job in my first semester break. The Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit had an exhibition on „coffee, how to make it and how it tastes“. I was a combination of a visitor guide and a bartender, explaining how to roast coffee at a roasting machine and afterward selling cups of coffee to the visitors. When there was nothing to do I documented coffee machines and coffee mills and I can still give you a five minute lecture on the principle of the „recirculating percolator“ and why it’s a dumb idea to brew your coffee with it.

In my next semester break I did an internship in the Museum für Kommunikation (museum of communication, the former postal museum) in Berlin. They were building up their new permanent exhibition, and so, „unfortunately“, I had to take a break from my studies for one semester because they signed me as project assistant. It was a thrilling time and I learned many, many things about exhibitions, research, textual work, copyright questions, object handling and troubleshooting.

I went back to my studies in May 2000 but from this project on there was never a time I haven’t worked for a museum or similar institution. I was working as a freelancer as a side job during my studies. It were different jobs but most of them were linked with special exhibitions. So I learned much about the encoding machine Enigma, Prussian military, clay bricks, paper manufacturing, the agricultural development in the state of Brandenburg, paraments and church history, the human brain and screw manufacturing.

I finished my studies in the spring of 2002 and kept working as a freelance museum professional, mainly for the Deutsche Museum in Munich and for the cathedral museum in Brandenburg/Havel. Alongside I was looking for a time contract or permanent job in a museum. One day when I was searching job announces on the internet a very known name popped up: The Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit was searching a curator for their permanent exhibition on synthetic materials and their collection of chemistry objects. Feeling I had nothing to lose, I sent an application, considering my chances very dim, because they searched for a specialist in chemistry. Very much to my surprise they invited me for a job interview and in February 2003 I was back in my „old“ museum which felt like coming home.

Developing Banana Key Rings (from left to right): Polypropylene let the key ring break too easy, blue was the wrong color, polyethylene with yellow color was just perfect.

Developing Banana Key Rings (from left to right): Polypropylene let the key ring break too easily, blue was obviously the wrong color, polyethylene with yellow color was just perfect.

The permanent exhibition on synthetic materials included some injection molding machines that were still working. So when the museum showed a special exhibition on bananas we managed to find a local manufacturer of molding forms who designed, manufactured and donated us a molding form for a banana key ring. It was great fun for the demonstration technicians and me to find the right synthetic material and the right color to have a perfect banana. We had white, pink and blue bananas and even one that looked like a rotten banana because the temperature was too high and it burnt a little. After a while we were able to produce perfect yellow polyethylene banana key rings. Visitors loved it. (Sorry for the side note, but for it’s not a registrar’s story, I won’t have the possibility to tell it elsewhere.)

As a side note: The little blue banana is travelling the world as a geocaching travelbug, see

As a side note: The little blue banana is travelling the world as a geocaching travelbug and is recently in Sweden…

Being the curator for synthetic materials meant not only curatorial work, but also a lot of registrar’s work. There was a large collection of magnetic tapes dating back to the very first developments from 1934 until the present time and it needed to be sighted and documented. Most difficult was the research on how to store them and how to save the information on them – a problem that is still not solved to a satisfying extend.

As you can imagine time past quickly and it was only a two year contract. In my second year there the Landesmuseum announced the position of the „Depotverwalter“ (administrator of outside storage facilities). Having again nothing to lose, I applied and was chosen. This marks the point where I switched completely from exhibition work to collection work.

It was much later, after we had managed the closing of one of our storage facilities and the relocation of the collection in the remaining two storage halls in 2006, when I tried to explain to an American colleague what my occupation was. I searched the internet and digged out two job descriptions: one of a collection manager and one of a registrar. Deciding my occupation had more to do with the practical issues like physically moving the collection I chose collection manager. Later on I realized that the using of the terms differ from institution to institution, and I’m doing a lot of data base and loan work as well, so I’m a registrar, too.

That’s it, folks! That’s how I became – or realized I was – a registrar.




High in the sky

This story reached me by email after I asked a little about the amazing photos that I saw. Sharon McCullar is the Curator of Collections at the Lakeshore Museum Center, Muskegon, USA. She recommend to imagine her hanging over the rail of the lift bucket trying to yell the story down to an interested passerby while reading the story. 🙂

Lakeshore Museum Center Curator of Collections Sharon McCullar, Archivist Beryl Gabel and city of Muskegon lift operator washing and waxing the top statue of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument(70 feet tall) in downtown Muskegon Michigan. See story for details.

Hackley Park is an important focal point for downtown Muskegon Michigan.  The park was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1892 .  Charles H. Hackley, a prominent local lumber mill owner, purchased the land and paid for a Soldiers and Sailors Monument to commemorate the service of Muskegon County citizens during the American Civil War (1861-1865).  The 76 foot tall granite monument includes five bronze statues and was designed by Italian-born architect Joseph Carabelli.  Around the base are a sailor, cavalryman, infantryman and artilleryman.  On the top of the pedestal stands a 14 foot goddess of Victory figure.  The monument bears the inscription: “Not conquest, but peace – To the soldiers and sailors who fought and to all patriotic men and women who helped to preserve our nation in the war of the rebellion.”Four more statues were commissioned by Charles H. Hackley and installed on the four corners of Hackley Park on Memorial Day, 1900.  They are sculptures of prominent Civil War persons.  President Abraham Lincoln, Admiral Farragut were made by sculptor Charles Niehaus.  General U.S. Grant and General William T. Sherman were made by J. Massey Rhind.

Lakeshore Museum Center Curator of Collections Sharon McCullar, Archivist Beryl Gabel and city of Muskegon lift operator washing the Cavalryman statue on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Muskegon Michigan. This statue is about 20 feet off the ground, but we still wear our safety harnesses and gear. The operator has to be pretty skilled to get us close without dinging the statue.

In 1997 -1998 the statues were conserved by McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation of Oberlin, Ohio.  The Lakeshore Museum Center teamed with the City of Muskegon to develop a simple maintenance plan to help preserve the restored statues.  Part of that teamwork is that our curatorial staff (meaning me, the Curator of Collections, and other curatorial staff as they are available) works with the City to give the statues a wash and a light coat of wax each year.  We schedule this in early September of each year. It is usually mild weather with favorable relative humidity and temperature conditions.  If it is too hot the wax does not set up, but if it is too cold the washing step is very uncomfortable and the wax is difficult to apply evenly.The wash removes surface grime and gives us a chance to inspect the statues for damage or deterioration. We use a mild detergent recommended by the conservator and fairly soft scrub brushes.  The light coat of wax provides a thin layer of protection against the grime and makes it easier to remove it next year.  We don’t attempt any more aggressive measures, since we are not metal conservators.  It takes about 4 hours per statue depending on the conditions.  A warm day with a slight breeze helps the statues to dry quickly.  Wasp nests hidden in the folds of the sculpture is a very unpleasant surprise.  I have angered a number of very large spiders as well with a soapy bath.

To access the statues, the City of Muskegon provides a tall lift – we have to get 80 feet into the air to reach the tip-top of Victory.  This takes a skilled operator and nerves of steel.  It can get pretty windy that high in the air – especially if there is a storm coming in across Lake Michigan.  Maneuvering around the statues and the granite base also takes skill.  We need to get close enough to work effectively, but not bang into the statues with the lift bucket.  The bucket sways quite a bit – by the end of the week I resemble a tipsy sailor as the world sways no matter if I am on the lift or not.  But the views of Muskegon Lake, the city and Lake Michigan are spectacular!

Text and pictures: Sharon McCullar


A misterious "pen"

A misterious pen

It can be part of a registrar’s work to find out, what an artifact actually is. It might sound strange but there are many objects in this world that might leave you clueless if you never saw them before. This pen is such an object that began as a “What-is-it”, an unidentified object with unknown use. This is a story about how the object got its name and meaning back.

As a registrar you start with looking at the object to find out about its use and if possible about its context. In this case it was among a donation of a radio ham which suggested that it might be something you use for fixing a ham radio equipment or something. Our closest guess was that it was a circuit tester, but somehow this explanation didn’t satisfy us.It was too far away from the circuit testers we knew and already had in our collection. If in doubt, it’s best to ask. So we send a request over the mailinglist of the RCAAM with the following picture and description:

disassembled pen

while working on a donation from a radio ham we came across this really weird item.

It is about 6,7 inches long, the diameter is 0,44 inches. It has a clip on the side like to attach it to one’s shirt pocket. You can turn the red plastic knob at the rear end in a 90 degrees angle until it gives a clicking sound. You can twist off the red thing with the metal bolt at front end, so you can insert two AA-batteries in the shaft. Inside of the red transparent plastics thing at the front you can see that the metal bolt is soldered to something inside the pen and also soldered with a little lamp (not betting on anything, but it seems to be a light bulb, not LED) inside.

As we all know, networking works. No one came up with a better guess than a electrical continuity tester, but one colleague pointed us to an electronics shop in Berkeley/California/USA saying: “These folks would be able to answer just about anything regarding electronic devices”.

The answer came within hours, straight and clear:


I think it’s a Buzz-it.
It’s a signal injector                

Bob Lasher

Now we knew it was a kind of small oscillator to analyze what part of a radio didn’t work. We even had pictures of a similar device including a short manual.

I think it’s a great example that working with collections is never boring. It includes a great deal of detective’s work and sometimes even international collaboration.



5 tips for dealing with registrars

Why curators and collection managers often talk at cross-purposes instead of complementing each other to a perfect team

The days when museum storage managers were the strong guys with hands like duct covers are long gone. Today, collection management is the field where well-trained specialists in the handling of arts and artefacts are called registrars or collection(s) managers. They are responsible for the safe storage and transportation of collection objects and for any documentation about those objects. The jobs of the curator and the collection manager are very different.
The one who makes an exhibition has to:

  • be creative
  • surprise the visitor with something new
  • have not only a plan B, but also a plan C, D and E for everything that goes
  • wrong
  • react in a short period of time to unexpected and unforeseeable events
  • present museum objects from their best side

The one that cares for collections has to:

  • think in long-term periods
  • use only materials that have been tested again and again for meeting archival standards
  • document everything that happens to an item of their collection – really everything
  • plan every detail so nothing goes wrong
  • divert attention from storage areas, and the transportation of museum objects

© Claudia Wagner, The Super-Registrar, the inscription reads “No Loan”

This is the reason why there are often issues between these two people or teams when it comes to developing and building an exhibition. Needless to say, most issues can be avoided if both parts know how the other one thinks and what his requirements are. Even more, if they fully understand what the other one’s responsibilities are the curator and registrar can form a very effective team. From a collection manager’s point of view who worked long enough for the “opposite side” there are five crucial points exhibition managers should know to have effective collaborations with registrars:

An eye for the future

Registrars think in generations. If visitors will enjoy seeing a certain artefact in an exhibition is not part of their considerations – at least not in the first place. For them, it’s most important the artefact goes to the exhibition place without damage, is presented in a safe way that doesn’t lead to damage and, finally, comes back safe and sound.
This might sound simple. In reality, a good registrar will only give his or her nod of approval if he or she sees each and every step in this lane is safe for the artefact. For the exhibition coordinator, this means he or she should provide as much detailed information about the planned exhibition as possible. Being able to provide good answers to questions about temperature, relative humidity, illumination, sunlight exposure, interim storage and safety installations increases the likelihood of getting a loan approved.
If the planning process is far enough along to tell how the artefact will actually be presented, this information should be given to the registrar. If there are issues with this kind of presentation it’s better to discuss it in the earliest possible state. This is far better than having the courier stop the positioning of the artefact just before the opening. Or, even worse, having a loan called back by the lending institution while the exhibition is still running – letting visitors stare at an empty showcase.

Don’t confuse museum storage with an online shop

There is a tendency to present the museum’s collection in an online data base. This is great, because it raises public awareness for the collections and the work behind the scenes. On the other hand it sometimes raises false expectations. Neither one can borrow all things shown in the data base, nor does it in most cases represent the whole collection.
While planning an exhibition one is tempted to “fill the shopping cart” and place an “order”. Additionally, one is inclined to lend more items than one actually needs in the exhibition. Accustomed to online shopping, one tends to think “I’ll send it back if I don’t use it”.

Despite the new ways to present museum collections the classical collection work hasn’t changed at all. Every object has to be taken out of its storage place and examined to determine if it can go out for the loan or not. The registrar not only does a check on the object’s condition but also to see if it is scheduled for another project, if the loaning institution meets the specific requirements and if the data in the data base is correct and up to date. Every object needs exactly the same amount of care, no matter if it is finally shown in the exhibition or not. If the registrar in charge gets the impression that the borrowing institution is ordering objects without thought and planning he or she will be equally willing to collaborate like a curator who is told his job only consists of hanging pictures on walls.
The other way round the curator can take advantage of the profound knowledge of the collection manager if he or she communicates the intention for asking for a certain artefact. Often, interesting objects are recent acquisitions that can’t be found in the online data base. The collection manager might immediately recognize that some of them fit into the exhibition context and can give a hint.

A matter of time

No one has time to spare, least the exhibition coordinator. But haste makes waste and if there is one thing every registrar tries to avoid it is waste.
A loan requested without enough advance notice is not likely to be successful. If the time for checking requested artefacts and requesting institution is too short, it is very likely that the registrar will object to the loan request. The earlier the request the more likely the object is not scheduled for another exhibition project. It is more likely that there is time slot for necessary cleaning or conservation measures. Furthermore, one can unhurriedly think about packing and transportation matters and talk about crucial points to find good solutions.
But what time is the right time? This depends on many factors. If the curator is still not sure if an artefact should be shown it is too early, at least in most cases. No institution is excited to get a loan request that is changed several times afterwards. On the other hand, like mentioned before, there are many steps involved for the loaning institution and there should still be time enough to look for an alternative if the request is turned down. It gets especially tricky if there is a board of trustees or similar institution involved in granting a loan. In this case the request must be early enough for the next scheduled conference.
The best answer to the time question is to have one exhibition team member who is responsible for all the loans involved. He or she should have enough experience, contacts and intuition to make the right requests in the right way at the right time.

From A to B and back again

Security and transportation issues are part of a registrar’s day-to-day routine. It is part of that routine to only give way for a transport if the responsible registrar is fully convinced that everything is alright. Actually, it can happen to an exhibition coordinator that his or her van has to leave without the loan, because security didn’t seem to be sufficient. There is one simple way to avoid this: communication – talk early, talk often.
Once it is clear which artefacts will go out on loan one can talk about transportation. Is an art handler with a special air-conditioned truck needed? Is a normal van sufficient? Is there enough space on the loading platform with all the artefacts if they are securely tied down? Are climate-controlled crates necessary and do they have to be customized or built completely new? Are the packing materials stored at the borrowing institution during the exhibition or do they come back and need to be shipped again when the exhibition is over? Is a courier needed? A thousand odds and ends need to be considered, planned and scheduled so that everything runs like clockwork when it comes to setting up the exhibition.
A good collection manager will talk with the curator about issues and ask the right questions. A common issue is for example the limited floor load in historical buildings, or elevators that are not big enough for the borrowed artefacts. But even a registrar doesn’t always take everything into account. The better the communication beforehand the less likely there will be unexpected surprises when the exhibition project comes into the crucial phase.

The case of dotting the i

Registrars are notorious for being accurate when it comes to documentation. “Dot every i and cross every t” has become something like the slogan of registrars worldwide. True, registrars can be tedious when it comes to rules, policies and formalities. When in doubt they tend to better document more rather than letting information escape. This sometimes drives exhibition coordinators crazy, who need to worry about a great deal of different issues at the same time but normally are not particularly fond of paperwork.

For example: Every object that goes on loan gets a condition report that mentions every characteristic, scratch and crack. A copy of this report goes out with the loan and is asked to be continued as the object makes its way to the exhibition and back again. The condition should be checked and documented (preferably by a registrar) before it is exhibited, during the exhibition and before it goes on the transport back to the loaning institution. Filling out condition reports is time consuming and needs to be done in the critical phases before opening and after finishing an exhibition where time is especially short.
With exhibitions based on the presentation of many artefacts and/or consisting of many loans from different institutions and maybe even from abroad, paperwork becomes a sometimes overwhelming factor. It is tempting to be a little sloppy with it and give more attention to other issues. This is the reason why curators sometimes tend to react irritably when being asked to initial that everything is fine for a felt 387th time.
This changes immediately if there is an insurance claim or if customs authorities ask awkward questions. Then every exhibition coordinator can be thankful if he or she had someone in the team who was working painstakingly accurate and dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s.

Conclusion: a perfect team

The domain and job requirements of curator and registrar are very different – and so are in most cases the personalities. That’s the reason why they can complement each other perfectly in an interdisciplinary team. Much is written and talked about what makes a good curator, exhibition designer, exhibition coordinator or project manager. What makes a good registrar is less common. This is somewhat logical, because it is part of the job to keep a low profile. But the often hidden strengths of a collection manager are priceless when it comes to setting a good exhibition:

There is the accuracy when it comes to formalities and the detail orientation when it comes to planning processes. This is combined often by a treasure trove of experience in dealing with tax and customs authorities, fine art shippers and museum colleagues and a profound knowledge about regional and institutional distinctions. In most cases, managing collections means coping with a low budget and still trying to make the best of it. So registrars often have good ideas where to get certain materials, tools or services for a reasonable price and how to solve problems with inhouse means.

To be well-connected in the field is inevitable in a registrar’s job. A curator can benefit from this network if he or she has the right kind of sensibility when it comes to handling and exhibiting artefacts. A recommendation among colleagues can achieve more than a well-written letter to a head of an institution. Of course, in the case of negative experiences this applies vice versa. In addition collection managers not only have a well-kept data base but in most cases the memory of an elephant. Very useful if you are planning an exhibition: you can get hints on artefacts in the collections of other museums and long forgotten past exhibitions, facts, figures and objects you won’t find in any data base or on the

Briefly: Those who have to deal with registrars might sometimes feel reminded of the
stereotyped Prussian administrative officer or even Tolkien’s Gollum. But
understanding how they work and what requirements and ideas guide their actions
will be the key to great collaboration and team play. Whoever wants to set up a major
exhibition project will be well advised to have such a nitpicking professional in his or
her own ranks, anyway.

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Davide Bordenca