". . . and the world hasn’t come to an end."
Lots to catch up on after the holiday weekend -- most interesting, from my point of view, this article in The Art Newspaper. The lede is that "leading international museum directors" have "restated their opposition" to sales from public collections "when the proceeds are used for 'anything other than acquisitions or the direct care of the collection.'" But the really interesting news is further down:
1. First, we learn that "the UK Museums Association (MA) has relaxed its ethical stance from a hard-line presumption against disposal to one that accepts that works of art might be sacrificed for the greater good of a collection. 'The basic principle of museums in exceptional circumstances liquidating their collections is a principle that we have embraced since 2007,' said Maurice Davies, the MA’s head of policy, 'and the world hasn’t come to an end.'"
This strikes me as enormously important, for at least two reasons.
One, the anti-deaccessionists in the U.S. have turned the debate into a moral crusade. The idea that "works of art might be sacrificed for the greater good of a collection" is not just mistaken, it's repulsive. Stalinist. An egregious violation of public trust.
But are we really willing to say the UK Museums Association is repulsive?
Or might it be the case that this is a difficult issue and reasonable people (or reasonable museum associations) might have different views as to what is or isn't appropriate?
In other words: can we take it down a notch, please?
The other reason it's important is that the anti-deaccessionists are always telling us that, if we allow sales in exceptional circumstances, the sky will fall. Letting one museum sell off one or two paintings paves the way for dozens of museums to sell off thousands of artworks, perhaps routinely. If we let even one go, even to keep a museum from closing its doors, there will be nothing left. They'll sell them all.
But here we have a natural experiment: the UK has allowed operating expense deaccessioning since 2007, and what's the verdict?
"The world hasn’t come to an end." Thousands of artworks haven't been sold off. There are still one or two left.
It's worth keeping an eye on.
2. The other thing worth mentioning is that one of the proposals floating around out there is "to create an expert panel that would review proposed deaccessions." Judith Dobrzynski made a similar proposal not too long ago.