Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"To think that a majority of people voted to part with a Tiffany window is a miracle"

The Boston Globe had a story yesterday entitled "Putting its mission before its treasure." It's about a financially-struggling Vermont church that has decided to sell its "prized asset," a Tiffany window depicting St. John the Divine:

"The church considered selling its pews; it had an appraiser value its bell. It also has three other stained-glass windows that church records say are Tiffany designs but which are not signed and are difficult to authenticate. The St. John window with its Tiffany Studios insignia was by far the most valuable and seemed the logical choice."

My question to the Deaccession Police is: is this okay? Isn't the window held in the "public trust"? What about the pews and the bell? The church receives the same tax benefits that, according to the anti-deaccessionists, cause works owned by museums to be held in the public trust (and therefore prevent their sale). Isn't this going to cause other churches across the country to start selling off their stained-glass windows just to feed the homeless?

What gives the First Baptist Church of Brattleboro the right to sell off assets in order to serve its larger mission but prevents the National Academy of Art, or Brandeis University, from doing the same thing?

How exactly do works of art come to be held in the public trust? What is the mechanism? If it's not the tax benefits, what is it?