Working in art: the Registrar

2 Aug 2022
Federica Lissandrello

Amongst the professional figures operating in the museum environment the one of the registrar, although less known to the non-professionals has an essential role.

In this article I will try to explain the versatile nature of this profession, which boasts a wide spectrum of skills, from the art historical and conservation to the legal one

Finally, a valuable interview with Anna Chiara Ferrero, registrar and art exhibition coordinator.

Who is the registrar?

The registrar is the figure that manages in full the movements of the artworks on the way in as well as on the way out from the museum, during temporary or new exhibitions and acquisitions.

There are two specific declinations of their profession depending on the circumstances that require their action:

  • Exhibition Registrar, when the management of moving works is related to the setting up of a temporary exhibition; 
  • Collection Registrar, when within a museum this figure is in charge of organising the monitoring as well as the internal and external movement of the works.

In particular, the Exhibition Registrar starting from curators’ and conservators’ exhibition plans, is responsible for preparing and organising all the paperwork required for the temporary transfer of works, from the loan deed to the insurance, and for maintaining correspondence between the host and lending institutions.

Having to coordinate the whole journey of the goods, including ensuring their safe keeping, they make contact with the packing and transport company as well as the restorers who will carry out the Condition Report – i.e. the conservation check of the works – when the crates are opened.

In the event the lending museum appoints a courier, that is an companion who follows each movement of the work to the exhibition locationthe register will closely coordinate with them during both set-up and dismantling, still in order to protect the works.

It is above all during the intense and hectic set-up days that this professional’s great organisational ability is revealed: In the great bustle of moving works and innumerable professionals at work, they play the fundamental role of director and coordinator between the parts, planning each activity within a tight schedule, knowing how to deal steadfastly with any unforeseen events. In essence, a true orchestra conductor who guides, beats and punctuates the movements of the countless actors participating in the complex set-up.

To the origins of the profession

When did this figure first make its entrance in the international museum scene?

Such a role emerged in the 50s in the USA and from 1978 all professionals meeting within the Registrar’s committee, were recognised by the American Associations of Museums (AAM).

Not long after, in the early 1970s, the figure of the registrar also landed in Great Britain and over time expanded in Europe, debuting in the major museums of France, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Spain with their respective professional associations.

Unfortunately, despite being increasingly indispensable, in Italy the profession of Registrar is still not officially recognised by the Ministry of Culture.

The figure of the registrar is mentioned for the first time in a document for the regulation of the activities of museum institutions contained in the Decree of the Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities of 10 May 2001, as “the person who creates, documents and organises all the acts relating to the loan of a work of art”. His task is also included in the National Charter of Museum Professions drawn up by ICOM (2008), with the definition of “person in charge of the loan service and handling of works”.

To tackle such lack of recognition, the Italian association of Registrars of Artworks Registrarte” has been fighting for years; a true information channel and collaborative network, aimed at fostering the exchange of ideas and experiences between professionals who have been active for years in the field of exhibition organisation and at shedding light on this museum role.

Interview with the professional

Now we will hand over the word to the registrar Anna Chiara Ferrero, who will be able to give further explanations on this fascinating profession much better than myself:

What was your training?

I did a Master’s degree in the old education system on the protection and enhancement of cultural heritage and thanks to my dissertation at the end of the course I was selected for an internship.

How and when did you first approach this profession? Have you seen it change over the years and take on more importance in view of the much hoped-for recognition by the Ministry? 

After my internship, I was called for a collaboration at the Triennale where I got to see the organisational background of exhibitions in the field, after which I continued by collaborating with various Italian and foreign institutions.

Certainly, the Registrarte association has contributed a lot to making the role of the Registrar more widely known in Italy. More than the importance of recognition, I think the contribution and exchanges between colleagues at seminars and biennial international conferences are relevant.

Among your experiences, what was a particularly significant moment for you? 

Fortunately, there have been many, but I remember with most appreciation the touring exhibitions I organised in Latin America years ago; a very formative experience professionally as well as personally.

3Dscan, Art, Condition report, Cultural heritage, Digital technologies, Fruition, Milan, Museums, Preventive conservation, Registrar, Restore, Services for art, Technology, Tuition

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