Inquiry and Research

The Museum shall rigorously research the provenance of a work of art prior to acquisition to determine that the Museum can obtain clear title. Such research should include, but is not necessarily limited to, determining: 

  • the ownership history of the work of art; 

  • the countries in which the work of art has been located and when; 

  • the exhibition history of the work of art, if any; 

  • the publication history of the work of art, if any; 

  • whether any claims to ownership of the work of art have been made; 

  • whether the work of art appears in relevant databases of stolen works; and 

  • the circumstances under which the work of art is being offered to the Museum. 

For all acquisitions, the Museum shall make a rigorous effort to obtain from sellers and donors all available information and accurate written documentation with respect to the ownership history of the work of art. 

Legal Considerations 

Museum acquisitions must comply with all applicable local, state, and federal U.S. laws, most notably those governing ownership and import of works of art, such as the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA), the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA), sanctions enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Since the status of a work of art under foreign law may bear on its legal status under U.S. law, the Museum shall review relevant foreign laws before acquiring. 

Warranty and Indemnification 

When purchasing works of art, the Museum will seek representations and warranties from the seller that the seller has a valid title and that the work of art is free from any liens, claims, and encumbrances. The Museum will also seek indemnification for a full refund for the work of art in the event of any breach of warranty. These requirements apply to all purchases of $10,000 or more and to other purchases as appropriate in the judgment of the Office of the President.  

The Museum is committed to the principle that all collecting be done according to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice. 

Procedures for Accepting Gifts or Bequests

For all gifts and bequests, the curator recommending acceptance writes a detailed report, including a description of the work, its condition, publication history, importance to the Museum's collection, justification for acceptance, provenance and intentions for display (and/or storage) and publication. This report must be approved by the Director. The Director then reports the gift to the Office of the President, which decides whether to accept or decline the gift. 

The Museum generally does not accept restrictions on gifts; any exceptions require approval by the Office of the President. 

The Museum requires donors to transfer all rights of reproduction unless the donor does not own such rights or the gift is made by a living artist of the artist's own work. In such cases, the Museum will seek a nonexclusive right of reproduction from the copyright owner. 

Acquisitions for Museum Collections 

Curators should propose exceptional works of art for acquisition to the collection that significantly further the Museum's stated mission. All works should be in, or capable of being returned to, an acceptable state of preservation unless the deteriorated physical condition is integral to the meaning of the work. The Museum must be able to display, store, and care for the proposed acquisition according to generally accepted museum practices. 

Staff Policies Related to Acquisitions