The background of loaning artworks

The activity of the Hungarian Registrars Association

If we were to ask the average museum visitor who they thought works in a museum, they would probably come up with restorers, museologists, exhibition guides and perhaps museum educators. If, just out of curiosity, we were to catch them standing before the Rembrandt self-portrait – loaned from the collection of the Galleria degli Uffizi – at the show advertised on posters all over the city and ask what kind of work they thought had gone into this masterpiece being brought from Florence to the Museum of Fine Arts, we would be presenting our visitors with a far more onerous challenge. The more informed visitor would probably think of the tasks more pertinent to the curator or possibly the forwarding agency. Yet, just like in every institution, in museums there is also a great deal of work that goes on in the background to produce spectacular events. Such work – best done if it remains ‘unseen’ – is carried out, among others, by the museums’ legal experts, exhibition organisers, economic experts, art technicians and their registrars.

The word registrar can be misleading since only part of the tasks involved in a registrar’s activity are administrative, despite what one would initially associate it with. A less ambiguous term is “art loaning expert”, which is listed under the civil servant activities in the cultural sphere in the supplement to a government decree in 2010, the document where this profession was first referred to in the context of Hungarian legislation. In carrying out the organisational, co-ordinating and administrative tasks linked to the loan of artworks, museum registrars may deal with the dispatch and receipt of loaned artworks, depending on whether they represent a borrowing or a lending institution.

The registrar profession emerged in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s. When adopted in Europe, it underwent significant adjustments to the peculiarities of local institutions and collections. The diversity of the activities it involves prevails even today: the actual work and scope of activities of registrars may vary from country to country and from institution to institution. In response to the EU directives urging collection mobility, the early 2000s saw the appearance of Hungarian exhibitions displaying a great number of works loaned domestically or from abroad.

The idea to launch a domestic forum for Hungarian registrars was proposed at the European Registrars Conference in Madrid in 2006. The first informal meeting took place in 2008 with participants from the Hungarian National Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery, the Ludwig Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. The Hungarian Registrars Group was officially formed in 2017.

It transpires from the above that the museum registrar profession is a fundamentally fledgling one in Hungary. Hence, one of the association’s main goals is to specify the tasks of Hungarian museum registrars and to exploit the potentials inherent in this profession with a view to fostering rising standards in the loan of artworks.