Become informed & inspired by artists whose works advanced Western Art History.

Behind the Scenes

  • International Council of Museums
  • Curators
  • Conservation
  • Restoration, Is it Really Possible?
  • Tackling a Picasso (Met Museum – video)
International Council of Museums:

This organization was established in 1946 to represent museums and museum professionals. ICOM defines professional standards of excellence for the global museum community of approximately 30,000 members.

“ICOM defines a museum as a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development and open to the public and to acquire, conserve, research, communicate, and exhibit for purposes of study, education and the enjoyment of people and their environment.”

“Their standards include the management of a museum, the organization of its collections, documentation standards, and a professional frame of reference. These themes contribute to the international quality of museums.”

“Documents are available in English, French and Spanish; they play a key role within the “international museum organization.”


Curators are responsible for the administration, care, and management of every object in a collection. The largest museums may require a curator to supervise a staff for collections and exhibition personnel. Curators consult with media, present programs, gallery talks and tours of exhibitions, at the museum, and in the community. Many publish and contribute to museum journals and prepare exhibition catalogs.

Prior to acquiring new work, curators must first know what is missing in the collection to try and locate an object to fill a gap. Condition of the work and budgetary considerations are critical to this function. The curator must keep up with auctions, private sales, and staying in touch with their network to discover what is available. Curators of contemporary art need to know the newest work of well-known artists and new artists gaining interest in art circles. Once a new object is acquired, an accession number is assigned to identify the item and keep track of it.

Museum curators research the chronological ownership, custody or location of a historical object, starting with the artist’s first sale. Concern rises when paintings pass down through generations with no record of sale. Frequently private collectors sell works anonymously through dealers or auction houses who don’t disclose the true owner in their records. You can imagine how important it is for museums to have authentic documentation to avoid purchasing fake objects.

Collections are acquired through outright purchases, benefactors, endowments and bequests of collections. Some museums may have more works of art than they can display at once. Curators often switch objects in their galleries with others in vast storage facilities to provide audiences with new discoveries.


Prevention: art work leaving a museum requires special attention. Most damage occurs in shipping because something came in contact with the painting’s surface within the crate.

Preservation: museum galleries are carefully monitored to avoid physical stress due to high relative humidity. This can cause the growth of mold and fungi which causes swelling and contraction as the materials in an object or artifact attempt to adjust to the environment. You may see a device for keeping temperature, humidity, and acidity levels stable in a museum gallery. Most HVAC systems will have a sensor that trips an alert if levels change.

Protection: The Louvre, in Paris, preserves da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (in the Renaissance Collection) behind bullet proof glass. Prior to 2009, a velvet rope held people back nearly three feet to prevent breath and bodily fluids, sneezing, coughing, and mouth-spray while talking) from being projected onto the surface causing the quality of the work to deteriorate over time. Pointing and pens are frowned upon in many museum galleries.


This video is, of a lecture, titled Painting Restored! Is That Really Possible? Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. There are many examples and a Q&A, by Michael Gallagher, Sherman Fairchild Conservator in Charge, Paintings Conservation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You will see the restoration of an early, Picasso masterpiece, Harlequin, 1901. If you are in a hurry, skip to 18:27 on the video. View in full screen.