When assembling major exhibitions, galleries spend large amounts of time sorting out reciprocal agreements – they will borrow a piece of another institution on the basis that they will lend something else back at a point in the future. This process of lending as well a borrowing encourages greater cooperation in future when something is requested by that museum.
For museums which have pieces that other institutions would like to borrow, this process can put them in a powerful position allowing them to negotiate specific terms to their advantage.
Greece has on numerous occasions offered to offer other significant artefacts in exchange for the return of the Elgin Marbles – a similar agreement to those for exhibitions – but on a longer term basis. This offer has always been rejected by the British Museum.
Los Angeles Times 
June 25, 2006
It’s a delicate balance as L.A. museums lend sought-after works so they too can receive.
By Suzanne Muchnic, Times Staff Writer
JOHN CONSTABLE’S breathtaking country landscape, “View on the Stour Near Dedham,” is not in its place of honor at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Neither is its turbulent companion piece, “Flatford Mill From the Lock.” They have flown off to London to play a vital role in the Tate Britain’s historic exhibition of the British artist’s 6-foot landscapes and related oil sketches. Come fall, the show — Huntington pictures included — will move on to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The Huntington’s Flemish masterpiece, “Madonna and Child” by Rogier van der Weyden, remains on view in San Marino, but not for long. From November through May it will be in “Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych,” opening at the National Gallery and traveling to the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp, Belgium.
Meanwhile at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Raphael’s radiant “Madonna and Child with Book” — the only painting by the Italian Renaissance master on the West Coast and a favorite of Simon devotees — is nowhere to be seen. It is spending the summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in an exhibition focusing on the Met’s Raphael altarpiece.
And those are only the most spectacular emissaries from local museum collections. The Simon also has sent five paintings by Paul Klee to “Klee and America,” a summer show at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum’s recently acquired painting by Jean-Baptiste Pillement is at the Albertina in Vienna in an exhibition celebrating Mozart’s 250th birthday. About 50 works from the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Norton Simon and the Getty are in Paris in the Pompidou Center’s ambitious survey, “Los Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an Art Capital.”
Much of this is business as usual — at a particularly active time. Art loans are essential components of most special exhibitions organized by scholars at major museums. But there’s nothing routine about taking your Constable or Raphael off the wall, pulling other valuable works out of storage and sending them across the country or overseas. Loan requests that pass muster with curators and conservators ascend through well-established chains of command, but each museum has particular policies, practices and restrictions, all of which can change.
At the Huntington, for example, the founder and his first board of trustees drew up a resolution in 1925 stating that “the books, manuscripts and works of art should be exhibited only within the Huntington Library and Art Gallery and never loaned for use elsewhere.” The prohibition held until 1992, when a new group of trustees saw the benefits of participating in collegial research and drafted a policy allowing artworks to travel to exhibitions of scholarly significance.
Since then, the Huntington has been free to lend, except for works indelibly identified with the institution, such as Thomas Gainsborough’s painting “The Blue Boy” and Thomas Lawrence’s “Pinkie,” and objects subject to donor restrictions, said John Murdoch, director of the art collections. The only criteria are that the exhibition “contribute to knowledge,” that the art “be transported and displayed safely” and that the Huntington be able to maintain its displays without the objects, he said. Huntington trustees approve loans of about 20 major objects a year and, on occasion, groups of works by a single artist that appear in monographic exhibitions.
The Norton Simon Museum also bears the stamp of a distinctive collector. Fiercely independent in business as well as art, Simon lent big chunks of his collection in the 1960s and early ’70s, before establishing his showcase at the former Pasadena Art Museum. He announced his spectacular Raphael acquisition at a 1972 exhibition of his collection at the Princeton University Art Museum.
Simon all but stopped lending stellar pieces after they were installed in Pasadena, leading to a perception that the museum had a no-loan policy. In fact, there never was a firm policy, said chief curator Carol Togneri. The museum frequently shares works from the modern and contemporary art collection built by the Pasadena Art Museum, such as those at the Pompidou and the Phillips Collection. But loans of the most valuable pieces acquired by Simon himself are extremely rare because — like “The Blue Boy” and “Pinkie” at the Huntington — they are treated as iconic fixtures that the public expects to see in Pasadena.
One 15th century Dutch gem, “Christ Giving His Blessing” by Hans Memling, went to Bruges, Belgium, for a landmark exhibition in 1994. But the Simon declined to lend its Jacob van Ruisdael masterpiece to LACMA’s 2005 exhibition of the Dutch painter’s landscapes. Two Gustave Courbet paintings from the Simon appeared in the Getty’s recent show of Courbet landscapes, thanks to a special relationship based on the museums’ joint ownership of works by Nicolas Poussin and Edgar Degas.
The Met struck out on its initial bid for the Simon’s Raphael, for an exhibition that would unite long-dispersed parts of the “Colonna Altarpiece” and display them with drawings and paintings made during the same period. But the Simon eventually gave in to repeated entreaties and peer pressure. The British Museum in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, and the Museum of Fine Art in Lille, France, refused to lend drawings related to the Simon’s painting if it was not in the exhibition.
“After a lot of going around and postponing the show for about a year,” Togneri said, “we made this unprecedented agreement because of the context and because it is a very, very small gathering of pictures centered around the Met’s ‘Colonna Altarpiece.’ ”
Loans are quite a different matter at LACMA, a public-private partnership that has amassed a 100,000-piece collection from many sources. The museum has a rigorous screening process to assess the scholarly nature of requests, address conservation and safety issues and sort out scheduling conflicts. Still, LACMA makes loans of various sizes to 100 to 150 institutions a year, including 40 loans currently underway. One and a half positions in the registrar’s office are occupied by people who do nothing but process these transactions.
“It’s important that our collection is known and published and shared,” said LACMA deputy director Nancy Thomas. “That’s really a goal for us.”
Turnabout as fair play
A similar attitude prevails at MOCA. With a 5,000-piece holding of contemporary art compiled from purchases and gifts from private collectors, the museum lends works to 25 to 30 institutions a year.
“We are overwhelmingly desirous of sharing our collection with facilities that are appropriate and exhibitions that are worthy,” said chief curator Paul Schimmel. That’s partly because museums’ reputations are built on permanent collections, but also because exhibition programs thrive on mutual back-scratching.
“MOCA’s ability to organize major exhibitions absolutely depends on its ability to loan,” Schimmel said.
The same is true nationwide. Those who get must give.
“It goes against human nature to persist in acts of generosity if there is never any sense of the possibility of a reciprocal gesture,” as the Huntington’s Murdoch politely put it.
Active players engage in lots of negotiations while organizing major shows. The borrowing institution pays costs of packing, transportation, insurance and special conservation and framing, if needed. But regular trading partners often waive standard loan fees and save money by consolidating shipments and sharing couriers.
Every museum doesn’t get what it wants. LACMA has co-organized an upcoming exhibition, “The Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820,” with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. But a key piece from the Los Angeles museum’s collection — a 1575 chalice made of silver gilt, rock crystal, boxwood and feathers — is too fragile to travel to the other venues.
“That was a painful decision,” Thomas said.
Among other sticky issues, the museum resolved a problematic request from the Pompidou for a John McLaughlin painting, also deemed unfit for travel, by substituting a similar work. But LACMA’s long-planned show of works by French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir had to be postponed until 2009 because requested loans were already promised to other suitors.
Despite competition, escalating costs and rising concerns about safety, art loans will continue. And the practice is likely to expand in the computer age.
“We used to get requests over and over again for a few things published in a couple of books,” Schimmel said, referring to catalogs of works purchased by the museum from Giuseppe and Giovanna Panza di Biumo and art donations from the family of Taft and Rita Schreiber. “Since our collection has been on our website, it has been available to more people and we have received a much wider variety of requests. Putting collections online has leveled the playing field.”
Artworks on loan from local museum collections and where they’re traveling:
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Two paintings by John Constable will be in “Constable’s Great Landscapes: The Six-Foot Paintings” at the Tate Britain in London to Aug. 28 and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Oct. 1-Dec. 31.
“Madonna and Child” by Rogier van der Weyden will be in “Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Nov. 12-Feb. 4 and at the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp, Belgium, March 3-May 27.
Norton Simon Museum
“Madonna and Child with Book” by Raphael will be in “Raphael at the Metropolitan: The Colonna Altarpiece” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to Sept. 3.
Five paintings by Paul Klee will be in “Klee and America” at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., to Sept. 10 and at the Menil Collection in Houston Oct. 6-Jan. 28.
Three contemporary artworks will be in “Los Angeles 1955-1985: Birth of an Art Capital” at the Pompidou Center in Paris to July 17.
J. Paul Getty Museum
A painting by Gentile da Fabriano will be in “Gentile da Fabriano and the Other Renaissance” at the Spedale di Santa Maria del Buon Gesú in Fabriano, Italy, to July 23.
A painting by Jean-Baptiste Pillement will be in an exhibition celebrating the 250th birthday of Mozart at the Albertina in Vienna to Sept. 20.
A photograph by Baron Adolf de Meyer will be in “Josephine Baker: Image and Icon” at the Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis to Aug. 26.
Nine photographs by Edmund Teske will be in “Los Angeles 1955-1985” at the Pompidou in Paris to July 17.
A photograph by Charles Sheeler will be in “Charles Sheeler: Across Media” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to Aug. 27; the Art Institute of Chicago Oct. 7-Jan. 7; and the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco Feb. 10-May 6.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Fifteen contemporary artworks will be in “Los Angeles 1955-1985” at the Pompidou in Paris to July 17.
Two paintings by Paolo Veronese will be in “Veronese’s Allegories” at the Frick Collection in New York to July 16.
Six costumes by Balenciaga will be in an inaugural show of the renovated Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris July 4 to Jan. 28.
Three paintings by Josef Albers will be in “Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World” at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Bielefeld, Germany, to Oct. 1.
A painting by Howard Hodgkin will be in the British artist’s retrospective at the Tate Britain in London to Sept. 10 and the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid Oct. 18-Jan. 8.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Twenty-four contemporary artworks will be in “Los Angeles 1955-1985” at the Pompidou in Paris to July 17.
Two works by Jackson Pollock will be in “No Limits, Just Edges” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York to Sept. 29.
Two paintings by Laura Owens will be in her survey at the Kunsthalle Zurich to Aug. 13.
A photograph by Cindy Sherman will be in her retrospective at the Jeu de Paume in Paris to Sept. 3.