Registrar, The Munch Museum

The Munch Museum opened in May 1963, a hundred years after iconic Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s birth. Located in Tøyen, Oslo, the museum’s collection initially consisted of more than 1,150 paintings, 18,000 prints, 7,700 drawings and watercolors, and 13 sculptures, among other objects; all bequeathed by Munch himself, as well as by his sister Inger, to the City of Oslo.

Gallery Systems had a chance to catch up with Tine Schmidt Haislund, Registrar at The Munch Museum, about her role in the museum, implementing RFID on the entire collection for location tracking, and managing the upcoming move to a new museum building in Bjørvika, scheduled for the fall of 2020.

What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?

I think our biggest challenge these days is constantly adapting to change. The Munch Museum is moving to a brand new museum building in Bjørvika, Oslo, and even though we have been preparing for this for years, you can really sense that it is actually happening now.

Among many other changes, we will go from having only one exhibition space to possibly having 11 simultaneous exhibitions in the new museum. This naturally means that we all have to change the way we work, our routines, our responsibilities, etc.

It feels like we get a new colleague every day and even though it is an exciting time and such an honor to be part of this historic move, it does create some challenges. New staff need training but that takes time and things will take even longer for a while, until our new colleagues are able to start taking some weight off of the staff’s shoulders.

That being said, there is a real feeling of standing together as a united team and that is an invaluable feeling to have right now.

The new Munch Museum

How do you see the use of technology evolving at your institution?

It is a very clear strategy for the museum to be visionary and to embrace and use technology as a helpful tool in any way possible; for visitors as well as staff. We incorporate more and more exciting technology in the exhibitions to give the visitors the best possible experience. At the same time, we are also changing many of the ways we work as an institution by integrating and changing the IT we use.

Changing routines can be a slow process and that goes for applying new technologies as well. I think the biggest challenge is that different staff need different things and new IT solutions can seem like an added burden instead of a helping hand for some. As a Registrar, I am very dependent on the data I get from other colleagues, but if the one entering the data never sees the benefits of the effort, that is when you start to have problems. I am only as good as the data I receive and it can be taxing to make everyone acknowledge the collective benefit of individual efforts.

Tine Schmidt Haislund, Registrar, The Munch Museum

Tine Schmidt Haislund, Registrar, The Munch Museum

What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?

I am currently on leave from my permanent position as a registrar and am now working 100% on moving of the museum’s collection. In the moving-project, it quickly became clear that no one really had a total overview of the consequences of all loan commitments, exhibitions, conservation needed and the time and resources available. Even though the information was in Conservation Studio and TMS, there was a feeling of unease because it was neither easy nor intuitive for staff to see how “booked” single objects were and how that coincided with the conservation needs necessary to move.

It was also clear that the painting’s collection was where most uncertainties occurred. Using data from TMS and Conservation Studio, and making an easy update possible through a simple package in TMS, I built a master Excel file that measures progress in conservation, commitments, packing-needs, time and general statuses.

Conservators can mark works as ready for packaging and that message is then forwarded to the Art Technicians. It is now the most important tool we use in the moving-project for the paintings and it is used by management to measure resources and progress, and likewise used by staff to highlight to management the need for additional resources. Since things constantly change in TMS and Conservation Studio, it was really important for me to make sure that I could easily update data within the Master File and later import data back to TMS and Conservation Studio. I am very pleased to say that I have succeeded.

If you were given $100,000 to spend on management of your collection or department, how would you use it?

There are so many worthy projects, but as a Registrar, I truly believe that any museum’s success can be measured by how well they manage their collection’s data registration. If the data is unreliable everyone suffers and it shows.

I would really love for the museum’s ephemera collection to have a thorough review. Being that this part of the collection has only rarely and sporadically been used in exhibitions, it has never been given the attention it truly deserves.

In preparations to move the museum’s collection and getting ready for the many new exhibitions, it has become even clearer that we need to rethink the registration of this collection. Many of the objects have been grouped in unsuitable ways that do not meet the needs and standards we have today or the way we use the data in TMS. Work has begun to make the changes but it is a very time-consuming, and therefore costly, process but I think it is time and money well spent for everyone.

Edvard Munch. The Scream, 1910. Image © The Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch. The Scream, 1910
Image © The Munch Museum

Do you have a favorite book, event or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?

I am sure most Registrars will agree that the go-to book for any Registrar is MRM5 (Museum Registration Methods 5th Edition; AAM). It is such a helpful tool for all those uncertainties that seem to pop up on a near constant basis for Registrars.

The Nordic Registrars’ Group–part of the European Registrars’ Group–is a great forum to meet other registrars and to exchange experiences and discuss registrar-related topics. We have an even smaller sub-group that meets every two months that consists of Oslo-based Registrars and, because we meet so frequently and have very similar challenges due to our close proximity, the atmosphere at these meetings is very laid back. We are honest about challenges we may be facing and everyone shares their own experiences.

Finally, I really do have to mention Collective Imagination. I have attended two CI’s and both times I have left with so much knowledge and eagerness to make initiatives back home. There are so many brilliant people at this conference and they all know TMS! Does it get much better than that? I look forward to seeing you all in Washington, D.C. in 2020. And for those of you who have never been, GO!

What is one of the most interesting projects or exhibitions organized by your institution and why?

Part of the moving-project is implementing RFID in the entire collection. This is such an exciting project and once it is complete, we will only rarely have to manually update locations in TMS. The system will move objects in real time as the objects move through portals within the museum and storage facilities. Works will be scanned with a handheld device to a specific location.

The system will send the data via Barcode Manager, but it will all be done “behind the scenes” so the registrars, technicians or curators don’t have to actively do anything in TMS or Barcode Manager. The next step in implementing RFID is to ingest the data programmatically into TMS. This of course poses some challenges but we are confident that we will get there. As a Registrar, this is probably one of the most impactful changes to my daily work, and it is absolutely for the better. The RFID system will also solve an additional nuisance that is bound to occur in a 13 story museum building: keeping track of trolleys and specialized tools.

However, as I mentioned earlier; the key is reliable data! Now more than ever we need to have reliable data and we need every object to have a unique ID in TMS to link to the RFID. Did I mention the ephemera collection?

Edvard Munch. Madonna, 1894. Image © The Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch. Madonna, 1894
Image © The Munch Museum

What is your favorite item from your collection and why?

There are so many fantastic items in the museum’s collection, and even though I really do enjoy the mouse carcass from Edvard Munch’s home Ekely, the one object that always makes me pause in admiration is Munch’s painting Madonna (1894). There is just something about that painting that always gets my attention and reminds me of why I am here, working as a Registrar.

Madonna, along with The Scream (1910), was stolen from The Munch Museum on August 22, 2004, in an armed robbery during the museum’s opening hours. Once they were returned to the museum in 2006, it was clear that both works had sustained substantial damage; Madonna had cuts through the canvas and the water damage that The Scream suffered is still visible today.

The robbery radically changed the way The Munch Museum works as an institution and the history of these paintings is a harsh reminder of the serious nature of what my job also involves. I think that is a healthy reminder for everyone who works in a cultural institution.