Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Watching a museum die is painful."

Judith Dobrzynski reports on the closing of the Fayetteville, NC, Museum of Art.  This is a case where deaccessioning could not have kept the museum afloat -- "of 22 works offered in a live auction [last week], just six sold -- bringing a total of $13,000" -- but it's an important reminder of what happens when we let a museum go under.  If we prevent them from selling one work (or two, or three) to stay solvent, then the result may be that they end up selling that same work anyway ... along with every other work in the collection.  Clearly, that's much better.

That certainly seems to be the implication of Lee Rosenbaum's grilling of National Academy director Carmine Branagan, three years after the museum sold two paintings from its collection to pay operating expenses.  Branagan says they "profoundly" regret the loss of the two paintings, "but there was no choice. There was no choice! So the collective Academy made the decision that staying open and being able to have the opportunity to continue this historic legacy was what was important. ... If the decision was made not to do it, the Academy wouldn't exist."

That's not good enough for Lee, who issues Branagan a Deaccession Police citation for Insufficient Remorsefulness and forwards her Incident Report to the AAMD bureau ("I can't imagine that AAMD's arbiters of museum ethics will be pleased by Barnagan's responses to my questions").

So just to review:

Selling two paintings to keep from having to close a 175-year old museum:  Deeply, deeply troubling.  "Deplorable."  Repulsive. The AAMD would like to have a word with you.

Selling eight paintings -- including works by Monet, Gauguin, and Pissarro -- to buy a single work by Caillebotte:  No problem.  Knock yourself out.  Kind of a Humane Society.  It's not like there aren't thousands of other pictures at the museum.  Get a grip.

(I do note that, alone among the Deaccession Police, Lee opposed the latter sale too -- because it violated her principle (which is not, it's worth noting, the principle of the AAMD or the New York Board of Regents) that only works "deemed unworthy of the museum's collection" should be sold.  But her criticism of that sale -- which you can read here -- is extremely mild in comparison to her criticism of the "deplorable" National Academy sales.)

In the course of making the case for the eight-for-one deaccessioning, Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee says the following:

"[I]n cases like these, I think, it's important to be realistic, and not to take refuge in principle. (Principles are fine, but they have a habit of short-circuiting active thought and judgment)."

I couldn't agree more.  In the Great Deaccession Debate, it's the AAMD, the Brodskyites, the Deaccession Police who want to take refuge in principle.  They have their principle, their prissy fatwa -- thou shalt not sell except to buy more art -- and they cling to it, against all reason.  They are the enemies of active thought, and of judgment.  It's actually a little repulsive.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Did Albert Barnes intend to have a website?

And how did he feel about the color orange?

Someone call the donor intent police.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


The Folk Art Museum will stay open.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Please. Someone, everyone, do something to save the American Folk Art Museum from dissolution and dispersal."

Roberta Smith says "the transfer and dispersal of the collection should be fought to the bitter end, with every ounce of passion and ingenuity that the museum and its supporters can muster."

The museum's "erasure from New York’s cultural skyline would be a tremendous loss, for the city in general and for its role as a center of both art viewing and art making."  We "need the creative energy of this stubborn, single-minded little institution, its outstanding exhibition program and its wondrous collection, an unparalleled mixture of classic American folk art and 20th-century outsider geniuses."  "All options" must be "thoroughly considered."

But ... are "all" options really being considered?

It seems to me this is a perfect test of the sanity of the absolutist position against deaccessioning.  It would be a "tremendous loss" for the museum to close.  We should fight to the bitter end to save it, with passion and ingenuity.

Okay.  So if we could save the institution through the sale of some work, why would we not do that?

Remember:  museums sell work all the time.

Just this morning, we saw a report that the MFA Boston is selling eight paintings -- including works by Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, and Gauguin -- to buy a painting.

How can it be okay to sell work to buy a painting, but not to save the insititution?

Does that really make sense to anybody?

Are we serious about saving the Folk Art Museum or do we just want to stand around wringing our hands about "ethics"?

Please.  Someone, everyone.  Do something.

Tell me again about the public trust (a continuing series)

The MFA Boston is selling "eight paintings from its collection, including works by Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, and Auguste Renoir. The works, valued at between $16.6 million and $24.3 million, were all gifts to the MFA."

Remember:  once an object falls under the aegis of a museum, it is held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations.

And if this sale is allowed to go forward, somebody will say, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?

Yeah, right.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"A nice move if you want to preserve the museum as a playground for the privileged and the rich"

Laurie Fendrich is not a fan of MoMA's new $25 admission fee.

"Today’s proposal is the same plan that President Obama outlined in the spring as a way to cut the budget deficit and earlier in his presidency as a way to pay for the health-care bill."

"Nonprofit groups said they are prepared for a similar fight in the face of the latest plan."

Prince Appeal Moving Forward (UPDATED)

The NYT's Randy Kennedy reports.

UPDATE:  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento says this is nothing major:  "Basically Prince continues with his appeal, but all this means is that his appeal can begin before the damages trial."

The Saddest Day Ever

May 19, 2012.

Sad because that's the day people can start seeing the Barnes Collection in this place rather than in that place, four and a half miles away.  Those four and a half miles of course make all the difference.  How can we even go on?

The Simplest Art Fraud Ever

Gets busted.

Stolen Art Alert

A Renoir has gone missing in Houston.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

"It is now in a private collection, and hasn't been seen in years."

Judith Dobrzynski makes a deaccessioning discovery on a Labor Day visit to the Met.

Tell me again about the public trust.

Gordon-McGinley Update

McGinley moves for attorneys' fees.

"If bigger doesn’t result in better, the Whitney will have done New York a terrible disservice, one that could have been easily avoided if only it had raised funds by selling a few artworks out of its vast holdings."

"But 'de-accessioning'—the selling of artworks from the collection—is a no-no in the museum world."

Adam Lindemann on the Whitney's upcoming move downtown (and related subjects).

Philadelphia Museum Insurance Suit Dismissed

In the ARTnewsletter [$], Daniel Grant reports that the Philadelphia Museums' "Frigon" claim against AXA Insurance was dismissed this summer because "the museum had not filed its lawsuit within its one-year allowance outlined in the insurance contract."  The museum was also "ordered to pay the insurer's defense costs."

"Shopping the Museum Archives"

"In a bid to boost recession-depleted coffers, museums are scouring their storerooms for artworks to sell online."

Is that material held in the public trust?  It's hard to keep track of the rules sometimes.

"The suit against Gagosian was dismissed because, as the judge pointed out, the gallery employees could not be held responsible for the excessive force used by police."

Artinfo's Julia Halperin has the details.

"Brownback's press secretary ... said the governor wants the arts to thrive in Kansas -- but not with public money."

Kansas is "the first state in the country to effectively do away with its state arts agency."

Related thoughts here.

"Times when I suddenly become willing to jump through hoops: when it will get me a $250,000 drawing."

Reid Singer on the stolen "Rembrandt" in LA:  "Weirdness and WTFness abound."

"I really find it staggering how many people can’t see the difference between stealing a physical object and copying something you don’t have permission to copy."

Matthew Yglesias on copyrights and wallets.

Possible Defense: "Well, excuuuse me!"

"Forgers Who Duped Steve Martin Go To Trial."

Earlier post here.