February 10, 2021

The artworld has a language of its own that can be tricky to keep up with, even for us. We are here to help decipher some of the terms often used and unpack what they mean. So let’s talk shop! 

Acquisition + Accession

An acquisition is an art object obtained, or acquired, by a museum.

How does this process work? 

Well, when an object is proposed as a donation, gift, or purchase, it must then be considered for acceptance into a museum collection based on the mission of the institution and its collection policy. This typically happens through an acquisitions committee that is comprised of advisory council members, artists, and arts advocates that vote on objects being considered for a museum’s permanent collection. 

What happens when an object is acquired?

After an object is voted to be acquired, it must then be officially accessioned. Accessioning is the process in which the registrar of the museum formally adds an acquisition to the museum collection. This means that they create a record for the object in the collection archive with all the details of the artwork, photos, and documentation of the acquisition, which includes assigning an accession number. This is a unique code that often consists of the year of the acquisition along with additional object identifying numbers. This accession number is used both for hard copy files as well as for the museum database.

Process photo of cataloging an accessioned object in the museum collection. The Art Guys, 1000 Coats of Paint: Book, 1990-1991. Latex paint, glass, and brass plaque; 2 ½ x 12 x 13 inches. Collection of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art; 1999.025.03.

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