Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Under Fire (UPDATED)

Deborah Solomon had a big piece in Sunday's Times on the Delaware Museum deaccessioning.  Unlike some previous efforts in the paper, this one just assumes the sale is the Worst Thing Ever, adopts the AAMD point of view completely, and then proceeds from there.  (You guys, the new director of the museum can't name a work he likes in the collection.  LOL!!!!)

But when it comes to explaining why the sale is the Worst Thing Ever, we get just one paragraph: 

"Selling artwork to fund operations (as opposed to acquisitions) is widely viewed as self-defeating, like burning down your house to heat the kitchen. Museums are supposed to safeguard art for future generations, not cash in or out. And as the sale of the Holman Hunt proved, it doesn’t always go as hoped."

The third point is neither here nor there, and the second I've dealt with hundreds of times (museums do not safeguard (all) art for future generations; they sell work all the time and it's nothing to be so touchy about). But I want to focus here on the first one -- selling artwork to fund operations is like burning down your house to heat the kitchen -- because that's a talking point the Deaccession Police love to trot out but, like a lot of their other talking points, it doesn't stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Selling a work of art from a museum's vast collection is not like burning down your house at all. It's more like selling, say, a fork from your kitchen drawer, or an old blanket that has been up in the attic for years, or maybe even in some cases your 52-inch flat screen television: it might really hurt, and you'd hate to part with it, but if that's what it took to keep you from losing the house, then you'd do it in a heartbeat. In none of these cases -- Randolph College, Delaware, the National Academy, etc. -- is anyone's house in danger of burning down.

But for my money, the big news came in a related interview Solomon gave with WNYC Radio in which she (a) fully endorsed the Ellis Rule and (b) came out in favor of the Randolph College deaccessioning. At around the 3-minute mark, she says:

"To me deaccessioning does make sense, though, when a museum is able to sell a painting to another museum, so that the picture stays on public view.  We had that this year when a George Bellows sold by Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia to the National Gallery of Art in London. It's the first time that an American painting entered the collection of the National Gallery in London. So that strikes me as a win-win situation."

Yes, it is.

UPDATE: In my haste this morning, I forgot to include the link to the radio piece. Fixed now.