Friday, August 30, 2013

"Selling any art would be tantamount to closing the museum"

The DIA's director Graham Beal would have you know.

Any art!  Even one work.


Unless of course the proceeds are used "to acquire more (and better) art."

Then it's fine.

Not tantamount at all.

Don't be so touchy.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"We don’t need the AAMD to serve as a museum police force." (UPDATED)

Exactly!  Where do I sign the petition?

David Ross, in a BlogBack to Lee Rosenbaum, says she should lay off the calls for the AAMD to DO SOMETHING NOW about the Pennsylvania Academy's decision to sell an important Hopper.  He writes:

"I do not think this is an issue for the AAMD, or any external oversight body except the museum’s own trustees. They are the men and women entrusted with the preservation of the works held by their museum. If they agree, then you may (and should) criticize them and their director. ... I feel strongly that we should trust the intelligence and professionalism of museum professionals and the seriousness of responsible boards of trustees. We don’t need the AAMD to serve as a museum police force. State and federal tax authorities and attorneys general can and do enforce violations of law, and that’s how it should be.  So criticize all you like when you feel an institution is selling work you feel they should not, and turn up the heat when you feel trustees are not living up to their responsibilities, but don’t expect the AAMD to solve or even address your concern."

Precisely, and I have just one question:  why shouldn't it apply to all deaccessions, regardless of how the proceeds are used?

UPDATE:  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento is signing the petition too.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Felix Salmon on the true age of mechanical reproduction (UPDATED)

Good stuff.

UPDATE:  The Art Market Monitor agrees.

Quick Hits

Schulhof sues.

McEnroe wins.

"Rub should take a short drive over to Philbrick’s place to explain why 'Weehawken,' entrusted to PAFA’s care, must remain in Philadelphia for the benefit of its public." (UPDATED)

Lee Rosenbaum remains the only member of the Deaccession Police to seriously grapple with what it might mean for works to be held in the public trust.

The others are content to say:

Works sold for any reason other than acquisitions -- OMIGOD! REPULSIVE! PUBLIC TRUST!!!!

Very same works sold for acquisitions -- No big deal.  Don't be so touchy.  (For example.)

But here's Lee, on yesterday's news that the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is selling "a treasured historic masterpiece" from its collection:

"How can the Association of Art Museum Directors convincingly argue for 'the City of Detroit’s responsibility to maintain and protect an invaluable cultural resource [the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts] that has been entrusted to its care for the benefit of the public,' when one of the association’s own members ... has just announced plans to cavalierly and irresponsibly monetize a treasured historic masterpiece from PAFA’s collection ...?"

She adds:

"How can Detroit successfully (and rightfully) argue for the sanctity of its collection when other museums regard their masterpieces as expendable?"

As I've said repeatedly, the works are either held in the public trust or they're not.  Can't have it both ways.

UPDATE:  More from Lee:  "If AAMD looks the other way when one of its own ... plays fast and loose with the public trust that the 'permanent collection' will ... remain permanent, the credibility of its no-sale argument in Detroit may be seriously undermined."  Ya think?

"The chart of historic gold prices does suggest that art prices may settle in where they are for some time to come"

The Art Market Monitor:  If Gold Is Setting Up For A Historic Tear, What About Art?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ann Freedman is more shocked than everybody (UPDATED)

She tells James Panero in New York magazine.

Judith Dobrzynski has "a nagging question; Knoedler sold 40 allegedly fraudulent works for $63 million. But she paid much, much less to Rosales. How does she explain that gap? Rosales knew what she had. How did Freedman get such giant markups without doing additional research, conservation, or any of the other things that allow dealers to double and triple the prices they charge?"

Greg Allen:  "Like Vincente Gigante in GVill, Freedman's shuffling around the art world in a victim robe."

UPDATE:  Patricia Cohen says what makes Panero's an exclusive is it's a "story no one else wants."

Tell me again about the public trust (Edward Hopper edition)

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts is selling one of its two "signature oil paintings" by Edward Hopper.  Hey, what do you need two signature oil paintings for?  Isn't one enough?

Since the proceeds will go into "a fund largely for acquisition of contemporary art," it's all good.  The signature oil painting is not held in the public trustFuture generations can fend for themselves.  Potential donors will not say, "Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?" Don't be so touchy.

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephan Salisbury asks a good question:  "Why not seek donors to seed the new acquisition fund instead of selling?"

The museum director's answer:  "We have extensive capital needs for our buildings. ... We have to harbor our resources."

This points up another way in which the Standard View on deaccessioning is completely incoherent.  If you use the money to buy more art, this view holds, that's perfectly fine; if you use the money for any other reason, up to and including keeping from going out of business, that's repulsive, Stalinesque, etc. etc.  But money is fungible.  Suppose the academy needs $10 million for capital needs and $10 million for acquisitions.  And suppose they can raise $10 million from donors.  They can say they're using that $10 million for the capital needs and so the proceeds from the sale of the Hopper will go to acquisitions.  But we could just as easily say the $10 million from the donors went to the acquisition fund and the Hopper proceeds are being used for the capital needs.  It's all just a semantic game.  Why anyone takes it seriously is beyond me.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, owner of two signature oil paintings by Edward Hopper
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, owner of two signature oil paintings by Edward Hoppe
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, owner of two signature oil paintings by Edward Hoppe
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, owner of two signature oil paintings by Edward Hoppe
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, owner of two signature oil paintings by Edward Hoppe

Knoedler's profits from Rosales sales were $43 million

Lee Rosenbaum walks through the latest indictment.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

"Could museums routinely sell shares of their work, raising billions of dollars they never thought possible? Maybe so."

Denver Post art critic Ray Mark Rinaldi makes a repulsive Stalinesque trickle down theorist suggestion:  "What if [Detroit] sold part ownership of a dozen or so pieces? That might help save the city with enough left over to actually purchase additional pieces for the collection, and expand arts education efforts to schools. Even the Association of Museum Directors would have a hard time arguing against that."  Oh, don't be so sure.

"Perhaps the biggest question Detroit is forcing all of us to ponder is a basic one, and fundamentally political in nature: what is the value of art to a city?"

Michael Bennett:  How Best to Spend The Detroit Institute of Arts' 15 Minutes of Fame.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"There's nothing in Chapter 9 that enables creditors to force an asset sale." (UPDATED)

Georgetown bankruptcy professor Adam Levitin on whether creditors can force the liquidation of the DIA collection.  He expands upon it at, where he makes three central points.

First, he argues that the collection "should be off-limits for the city’s creditors. If Detroit is to be rebuilt, it needs a cultural base, not just an economic base. ... Proximity to cultural treasures is ... part of what makes living in a city attractive and part of the package Detroit needs to attract businesses and tourism.  Letting creditors liquidate the city’s cultural patrimony would doom Detroit to a stillborn restructuring, the ultimate in penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions."

Second, he points out that, unlike with a personal- or corporate-bankruptcy, "bankruptcy law has no provision that requires cities to sell their assets to satisfy creditors."  So Detroit cannot be forced to sell the art.  If the Michigan Legislature passes legislation affirming the attorney general's "non-binding opinion" that the art is off limits to creditors, then it cannot be sold in bankruptcy.  Period.

And third -- and this, I think, is really a crucial point -- while the "creditors may complain that it is unfair for the city to hold on to a valuable asset while not paying them in full," the truth is that "liquidating the art collection would represent a giant windfall for creditors. No creditor ever relied on being able to seize the DIA collection when extending credit to the city."

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE:  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento has some questions in response to Levitin's piece.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Friday, August 16, 2013

"The way we look at reality is highly influenced by the context it’s presented to us." (UPDATED 2X)

New details about the creator of the Knoedler fakes, from the superseding indictment handed up Wednesday against Glafira Rosales.

UPDATE:  Rosales seems to be cooperating with the investigation.

UPDATE 2:  The Painter has been identified.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Detroit Dialogue

The responses to the NYT's "invitation to dialogue" regarding Frank Robinson's letter on Detroit are in.  You can read them here.  Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento has a summary here.  Judith Dobrzynski runs some responses that didn't make it into the paper.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Clarifying (UPDATED)

Judith Dobrzynski and Lee Rosenbaum get into it a little bit over Frank Robinson's NYT letter to the editor, and Robinson chimes in to clarify that his "central point" was that it's "important" that "museum people" "understand" and "respond" to the view (held not by him but "some people") that "this is not the time to provide support to museums, especially when it means people might lose part of their pensions, or have basic city services cut."  I have to say I didn't come away from it with that as the central point; I read him as posing an "agonizing" question -- namely, how do museums justify choosing art over "basic services"?  (Which I assume is why the Times singled his letter out as an "invitation to dialogue.")  But I'm happy for the clarification.

UPDATE:  Christopher Knight reads Robinson's letter the way Dobrzynski did.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

"Detroit’s assets need to be understood in terms of what they can do to revive the city, not on what cash they will produce at auction."

Bloomberg's James Russell is against a sale.

Customers who bought this Monet also bought ... (UPDATED 3X)

Amazon Art has launched.

The early reviews are not good.  Tyler Cowen does not think it will revolutionize the art world.  Greg Allen says the search "filters have nothing to do with how I look for and buy art."   Hyde or Die:  "Blech."

Strangely, though, the Washington Post thinks it's awesome.

UPDATE:  Via The Art Market Monitor, the on-site commenters are having a field day with this.

UPDATE 2:  Matthew Yglesias:  "This is probably not going to work for seriously high-end art where things Amazon is great at like shipping and customer reviews aren't very important. That said, I wouldn't be quite as down on this as Tyler Cowen. My feeling is that there's a real business opportunity in the 4-5 figure range selling stuff that art snobs would look down on to people who art snobs would look down on."

UPDATE 3:  The NYT's Patricia Cohen:  "The day after Amazon unveiled its new fine art marketplace, the online retailer was finding that its customers are as willing to offer their opinions on a $1.45 million oil painting by the Impressionist master Claude Monet as they are of the $2.74 Hutzler 571 banana slicer."

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

"For some museum professionals, ... simply discussing the monetisation of the collection is worrisome."

I missed this while I was away last week, but I'm quoted in this Art Newspaper article on Detroit.

"How can we equate a few pieces of canvas with paint on them with the pensions of thousands of firefighters, nurses, police officers, teachers and other civil servants?"

In the latest installment of their "Invitation to Dialogue" series, the NYT runs this letter from former museum director Frank Robinson.

Responses will be published in Sunday's paper, but I managed to get my hands on some responses of the Deaccession Police:

1.  Shut up.

2.  Frank Robinson is repulsive.

3.  Frank Robinson is Stalinesque.

4.  Frank Robinson should be sanctioned.

5.  Frank Robinson should be fired.

6.  If Frank Robinson can't be fired because he's retired, then Peter Schjeldahl should be fired.

I imagine the "public trust" may make an appearance too, but we'll have to wait till Sunday to fond out.

Wait -- you mean this thing wasn't over when Peter Schjeldahl conceded?

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has hired Christie’s to appraise "the city-owned multibillion dollar collection at the DIA."

Meanwhile, Art F City's Corinna Kirsch says a sale will never happen because it's "strictly forbidden" for a museum to do so -- but, since when you click on "forbidden" you get an article about a slew of recent auction sales by museums, I think she may be joking (in which case I say:  well played, Corinna!).

Monday, August 05, 2013

"Deaccessioning debates are not for the faint of heart."

A pair of good posts from Nicholas O'Donnell on the situation in Detroit.

Friday, August 02, 2013

And while I'm here ...

Judge Oetken has dismissed the rest of Peter Paul Biro's defamation lawsuit against The New Yorker (and others).  See here on the earlier, partial dismissal.

Okay, back into the witness protection program.

"It's not an 'argument' to suggest that anyone who advocates selling off the DIA's masterpieces is an art-hating philistine."

"Even if they're wrong, as I think they are, the sell-the-art crowd is making a morally serious case that can't be countered by name-calling."

I'm coming briefly out of hiding to recommend this piece by Terry Teachout, who suggests that it might be helpful if the Deaccession Police try directing their arguments towards those who don't already agree with them.