Best Practices

Collectors of contemporary art need not be intimidated by acquiring media installations or media-based artworks. Artists often create installations with all of the electronic components integrated into the work itself, so that they are purchased with or as part of the artwork. Some installations are as simple as "plug and play," while some require more investment and preparation.

When considering the acquisition of a media-based installation, it is important to ask the artist or artist's representative what exactly is being purchased. For example, it is common for multi-channel video installations to include the media components as part of the sale (such as DVDs for exhibition and an archival format for preservation), but not always the video display or playback equipment.

The work often comes with a set of guidelines and suggested equipment for the collector to acquire in order to show the work. These suggestions are helpful in identifying a set of attributes and features that the equipment should have, in keeping with the artist's intentions, and should be cross-referenced with the collecting institution's display and playback equipment holdings, which often have been dictated by past exhibitions and the physical characteristics of their exhibition space.

Best Practices for the collection of media-based installations go hand-in-hand with Preservation Best Practices. The recommendations discussed in the Preservation section of this Resource Guide should be reviewed when acquiring a media-based installation, as the conservation and preservation of media installations should be addressed at the moment of acquisition.

Communication with the Artist or Artist's Representative

It is of utmost importance to engage in a conversation with the artist or artist's representative to ensure that you understand all the elements of the installation and how those elements create meaning. Much work has been done in the conservation community regarding how to properly interview artists to obtain maximum information. INCCA's (International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art) "Guide to Good Practice for Artist Interviews" and the Variable Media Network's "Variable Media Questionnaire" are excellent resources.

Source Material

Gather all elements of the work including media, equipment, any sculptural elements or objects, and instructions for how it all fits together. For digital and video elements, make sure you have acquired archival formats in addition to exhibition or reference copies and/or the rights to make adequate exhibition copies for your collection in the future. The purchase agreement should include rights to update or migrate your archival format and create new exhibition copies in the future, when new technologies emerge.


A collector of media-based installations should address future preservation issues, including conservation, cataloging, storage, equipment stockpiling and media migration, at the time of acquisition. For a detailed discussion of preservation relating to media-based installation, please see the Preservation Media Installation section of this Guide.