Sunday, February 11, 2007

"Trapped on the horns of a dilemma"

Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward Sozanski weighs in on the Cello Player sale today. First, he acknowledges that "trading up to improve a collection is fully compatible with established museum protocols. In fact, it's one of relatively few legitimate reasons for what museums call 'deaccessioning.'" On the other hand, he's troubled by the secrecy surounding the sale:

"At least we knew where [The Gross Clinic] was going - first to the National Gallery of Art, then to a new public museum in Arkansas. The Cello Player has vanished into a black hole. Even the chairman and vice chairman of the academy's board ... say they do not know who bought it. This sounds more like a kidnapping than a sale, as in: Leave the painting in a storage locker in Long Island City. A cashier's check will be deposited to your Zurich account within 48 hours."

He also flags "one curious provision" in the sale contract:

"The new owner has agreed to lend the painting to the academy for exhibition 'as needed,' whatever that turns out to mean in practice. One could argue that the academy needs it now and forever because, unlike the Art Museum, it doesn't own a large number of major Eakins paintings. It's now down to three, all portraits, none of which equals The Cello Player in quality or complexity of mood."

The bottom line:

"The precedent of dipping into prime aesthetic capital remains troubling, but perhaps in time the new order, based on shared custody of The Gross Clinic, will compensate. And we must remember that The Cello Player can be lent back from time to time. As needed."