Monday, January 11, 2010

More on the Dobrzynski Proposal

Speaking of sensible reform proposals, there've been a number of interesting follow-ups to Judith Dobrzynski's deaccessioning op-ed in the NYT.

First, there were several letters to the editor in response, including one from the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, but I liked the one from the Brandeis student best:

"Here’s a simpler, sounder system to guide deaccession: The bought can be sold. This system reserves the sanctity of donor intent, as well as that of artwork acquired under special circumstances. And it ignores the largely unjustified slippery-slope paranoia that if allowed to sell one piece of artwork in a time of need, then institutions would more easily part with others in the future. If the struggling institution purchased a piece of artwork free of restrictions preventing resale, then that institution should be permitted to sell it at will."

Dobrzynski responds to some of the responses here, including the following:

"Donors will not give art if they know it may some day sold. This is a canard: they already know (or should know) that their gifts may be sold to raise money for future acquisitions. Those who fear this put restrictions on their gifts."

I think that's quite right. Remember (and I know I've made this point a thousand times): we're not talking about moving from a world where works are never deaccessioned to one where suddenly it's okay to deaccession. We're talking about moving from a world where deaccessioning for one purpose (the purchase of more art) happens all the time to one where deaccessioning for other valuable purposes (e.g., preventing a museum from having to close its doors or, worse, move 4.6 miles away to Philadelphia to a brand-spanking new facility designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien) is, in the right circumstances, occasionally permitted.

Finally, Felix Salmon weighs in on Dobrzynski's proposal:

"Essentially, Dobrzynski here is taking the Kimmelman rule — that museums should get first dibs on any deaccessioning sale — and beefing it up with two extra layers: first arbitration, and second the option to buy in the wake of a public auction. Personally, I think that the Ellis rule is still the best option, since it puts the focus where it belongs — on the art, rather than on the museum. Both Dobrzynski and Kimmelman would let art disappear from a museum into private hands, never to be seen again; Ellis wouldn’t."