Tate’s mission, laid out in the 1992 Museums and Galleries Act, is to ‘increase the public’s knowledge, understanding and appreciation of art’. As the national collection of British art from 1500 and of international modern and contemporary art from 1900, Tate’s art collection embraces all media, from painting, sculpture, drawing and prints to photography, film, video, installations and performance.
Tate is also home to the Archive of British Art since 1900. This acquires material relating to British artists, art world figures, art galleries, societies and institutions, and its collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks and other artworks, as well as photographs, press-cuttings, some printed ephemera and posters, film and sound recordings, and administrative records. The Archive also selectively collects material relating to earlier British art and modern international artists where closely associated with Tate’s art collection. In addition, the Archive houses Tate’s own records.
- See our most recent acquisitions in Art & artists
Tate aims to acquire art works of outstanding quality in all the areas for which it is responsible. It seeks to expand the range and texture of the art collection, and through its acquisitions to frame and address changing historical narratives. Particular attention is paid to developing a comprehensive representation of developments in British art. Tate’s collecting strategy is not medium specific, although attention is paid to building representative holdings of works in all relevant media. Tate is also committed to expand the geographical remit of its art collection.
- Tate Aquisitions and Disposals Policy [PDF, 188KB]
Acquisitions are made according to priorities agreed by the Board of Trustees.
All works of art proposed for acquisition are considered through the same procedures, whether offered as purchase, gift or bequest, or allocated by the Government in lieu of tax. Proposals are discussed and assessed by teams of specialist curators, and their recommendations are considered by the Acquisitions Group. This includes the Director, the Directors of Tate Britain and Tate Modern, and the Heads of Collection for British and International art. Final assessments are made by the Director and the Collections Committee, which meets four times a year. The Committee comprises seven members, four of whom are Trustees. All decisions, however, rest ultimately with the Board of Trustees. Archive acquisitions also go through the same process and are submitted to the Trustees for decision.
Tate’s art collection and archive collection are built by purchase, gift and bequest, as well as through works allocated by the Government in lieu of tax. Tate’s collecting is funded by a grant provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and is also supported by individuals and by funding groups established by the museum. Tate also applies for additional funding for specific works from various charitable organisations.
The Collections Committee is empowered to make decisions about proposed acquisitions of a value below £250,000. Its decisions are then ratified by the Board of Trustees. For acquisitions costing above £250,000, however, the Committee only makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees, who take the final decision.
The Committee also oversees the Director’s purchase authority. The Director has the authority to spend up to £100,000. Should a purchase be necessary inbetween meetings of the Collection Committee and the Board of Trustees, the Director is able to commit funds so long as the purchase is a work:
- about which an urgent decision has to be made, including but not limited to works sold at auction;
- which falls clearly within the current Collection Strategy agreed by Trustees;
- where action in relation to the work of a particular artist has been agreed in principle by the Collection Committee at an earlier meeting.
The Director must seek the permission of the Chairman of the Collection Committee before acting. All purchases are reported to the Collection Committee and ratified by the Board of Trustees.
Tate was first allocated an official purchase grant in 1946 of £2,000. By 1953–4 the purchase grant had risen to £6,250 and by the mid–1980s it reached £2.2 million. In 1992–3, the last year of the official purchase grant, the sum was £2 million.
Tate now spends around £1 million of its general funds each year on purchasing acquisitions and their related costs. This sum is significantly increased as a result of grants from bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund. Other funds for acquisitions are raised by Tate funding groups such as the Members, the Patrons and the American Patrons of Tate and its sub-committees, the North American Acquisitions Committee and Latin American Acquisitions Committee which fund specific acquisitions acquired on behalf of the American Fund for Tate. In addition there are four more committees; Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee, Photography Acquisitions Committee, Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee and the African Acquisitions Committee. Tate also receives many important acquisitions by gift or bequest from collectors and artists, as well as works of art accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax.
In the financial year to March 2011, for example, the total value of purchases was £3.9 million. Of the £3.9 million, £3.4 million came from charitable funds connected to the Tate and individuals, and £0.5 million from Tate’s general funds.
In 2010–11 Tate also received donations of works of art valued at £4.3 million.
Recent and historic acquisitions
Acquisitions are detailed in Tate Reports.