Monday, October 26, 2020

"In defence of progressive deaccessioning"

Glenn Adamson makes the case in Apollo magazine.

He addresses three arguments critics have made in recent days.

The first is that "equity in collections is such a distant goal that there’s no point even trying to achieve it." His response:

"[Christopher] Knight calculated that ‘the Everson would need to unload half of its collection for it to reflect the diversity of a city that is 45% nonwhite.’ Art historian Tyler Green, similarly, has said, ‘none of these sales fundamentally address these institutions’ histories of racism or sexism. They are attempts to elide a broader, deeper self-examination’. Against such objections, one might reasonably ask: if progressive deaccessioning doesn’t count as addressing problematic institutional histories, what would? It took generations for museums to establish themselves as bastions of white supremacy. No one believes that undoing this legacy will be either quick or easy. Surely we should not accept that sexism and racism are so entrenched that they cannot be uprooted? The only way to begin is to begin."

The second is that "diversifying collections, while a worthy goal, should be paid for by trustees, not through high-profile art sales." He says "this may sound persuasive – if you’ve never worked in a museum. If you have, it will probably provoke a bitter laugh. Directors and development officers are already raising money as fast as they can ...." (I've previously referred to this as the Magic Money Tree argument.)

The third – and "perhaps the most convincing" – is that "it results in important works being lost from public view." But here too, he says, "there is an obvious rejoinder: the great majority of museum collections are in storage anyway. If a work will not see the light of day in the foreseeable future, and is well published both online and otherwise – ... it’s not clear what exactly the general public is losing when such a work enters private hands. True, external scholars may have less direct access to it in the future; but those same scholars might well agree that their own academic interests are less important than equity in our institutional collections."

Thursday, October 22, 2020

More Baltimore

Hard to keep up with all the Baltimore commentary. I'll try to round a bunch of it up here and update as they come in.

Christopher Knight: against it. (Brian Frye: not impressed.)

Tyler Green. Lee Rosenbaum. Former Baltimore Museum director Arnold Lehman. All against.

Martin Gammon responds to Asma Naeem and Katy Siegel.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Full Circle

Thinking more about Mark Stryker's excellent tweet yesterday --  where he basically says in one sentence what I've been trying to say here for about 12 years -- and Everson board president Jessica Arb Danial's excellent piece, I'm reminded of the initial question I had about this whole issue, as quoted in Jori Finkel's New York Times piece all those years ago:

"Donn Zaretsky, a New York lawyer who specializes in art cases, has sympathized with the National Academy at [The Art Law Blog], asking why a museum can sell art to buy more art but not to cover overhead costs or a much-needed education center. 'Why should we automatically assume that buying art always justifies a deaccessioning, but that no other use of proceeds — no matter how important to an institution’s mission — ever can?' he wrote."

I still think that's the right question.

We know, as Stryker reminds us, that museums sell work whenever they want, so it cannot be the case that they are held in public trust. The only issue is use of proceeds.

The Jessica Arb Danials of the world think there is another use of proceeds, besides buying art, that can justify a deaccessioning -- namely, social justice, equity, diversity, representation.

Her opponents disagree with that view.

Isn't that what it really comes down to?

"He would also withdraw the portion of his complaint that his rights were violated under the Visual Artists Rights Act."

 An update on the toilet gardens lawsuit.

Friday, October 16, 2020

A Second Round of Deaccessioning at the Brooklyn Museum

This round includes works by Monet, MirĂ³, and Degas. Previous round here.

These sales are completely ethical -- the AAMD, which as we all know has the power to say whether or not something is ethical, has decreed it so. Some people are unhappy anyway.

Former Detroit Free Press arts reporter Mark Stryker tweets: "in future, critics will point to hypocrisy of museums selling whenever they want but crying 'public trust' only when convenient. The critics will be right."

Or, put another way: Tell me again about the public trust.

"While fine arts experts and critics may try to shame the Everson and other like-minded museums for the decision to deaccession for the purpose of creating an endowment to diversify the collection, these voices are echoing decades of status quo art history textbook and gallery etiquette, rather than the realities we are living today."

 "To seek to impose one’s ideals of an art museum, without considering how significantly the world has changed these last few decades, let alone these past few months, is nothing short of tone-deaf. Every one of us, especially in the arts, should be acting. The Everson is resolute in its decision to represent our community and will not miss out on an opportunity to create meaningful change.

In the "other" big deaccessioning story, the President of the Everson board defends the decision to sell a Pollock and use the proceeds to diversify its collection, including also the following:

"We see our role in this community as being much greater than retaining a single work of art, a status quo or the rigid sensibilities of a few critics, commentators and professional associations. We have something bigger in our hearts and minds, and it includes contributing most meaningfully to a community that is divided and hurting, preserving the talent of diverse artists still fighting barriers for entry and igniting the aspirations of young people who need to see themselves represented by artists."

Background, including comments from one of those critics, here.

Latest on the Baltimore Museum Deaccessioning

The LA Times: "A group of 23 prominent supporters of the Baltimore Museum of Art, including former trustees at the BMA and the nearby Walters Art Museum, has written to Maryland Atty. Gen. Brian Frosh and Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith to demand that they intervene to stop the impending sale of paintings from the storied museum’s collection."

Christopher Knight calls it "a blistering and closely argued six-page letter." Tyler Green has thoughts here. Lee Rosenbaum is here.

The museum's response -- including that "deaccessioning artworks from a museum's collection is a standard practice" -- can be read here.

The Baltimore Sun's editorial board weighs in here: "it’s an understandably painful pill for some to swallow. And change in general is uncomfortable. But we prefer to think of it not as closing a door on certain works by these white artists of the past, but instead opening the door to including diverse artists of the future, who would not have had the opportunity to be seen and appreciated in the same way in any other time in history, along with the new audience they could attract."

Two museum curators defended the move here. Background here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

"Baltimore Museum to Sell 3 Blue-Chip Paintings to Advance Equity"

Still catching up on blogging, and last week's big story was the Baltimore Museum of Art putting three major paintings up for sale and planning to "use its $65 million windfall to help advance salary increases across the board, invest in diversity and inclusion programs, offer evening hours and eliminate admission fees for special exhibitions." The New York Times story is here. Eileen Kinsella has more here.

Christopher Bedford, the Museum's director, says "this is done specifically in recognition of the protest being led by museum staff to be paid an equitable living wage to perform core work for an institution with a social justice mission — that symmetry between who we say we are and what we actually are behind our doors."

As the Times points out, the Museum is "taking advantage of the Association of Art Museum Directors’ temporary pandemic-era loosening of its deaccessing guidelines. ... The B.M.A.’s game plan is ... in line with how the museum association defined its new resolution active until April 2022, said Christine Anagnos, its director. The first $10 million of proceeds from the ... sale will go into the museum’s endowment fund for acquisitions, with an emphasis on artists of color of the postwar era. The rest of the proceeds, approximately $55 million, will be used to create a new endowment for direct care of the collection. This fund should generate approximately $2.5 million annually in income, to cover the salaries of curators, registrars, conservators, preparators, art handlers, administrative staff and fellows, and other collection-related expenses."

I discussed that temporary pandemic-era loosening of the AAMD's deaccessioning guidelines here.