One thing you see in the Detroit News article yesterday, and even more so in Graham Beal's response to Nicholas O'Donnell here, is the usual bait-and-switch from the museums.
On the one hand, if a museum goes to sell something to, for example, avoid going out of business, we hear: OH MY GOD THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER THAT WORK IS HELD IN TRUST FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS WE WILL NEVER GET OVER ITS LOSS NO ONE WILL EVER DONATE WORK TO A MUSEUM EVER AGAIN IF THEY KNOW THE WORK CAN BE SOLD OFF FIRE UP THE SANCTION MACHINE.
(We saw a lot of this in Detroit, which I will return to in a later post.)
But when a museum decides to sell a Van Gogh, or a Monet, or Hopper, and use the proceeds to buy art, then we hear: "What? What's the big deal? Museums sell work all the time. Don't be so touchy. You didn't think we were serious about that 'public trust' thing, did you? Why would it matter to potential donors that their work might be sold? Where'd you ever get that silly idea? It's no big deal. Come on. Grow up."
You can see why Beal was worried about "send[ing] a confusing message to some of our public."
UPDATE: "Museums have been criticized by some observers for what can appear to the public to be confusing or contradictory rules concerning deaccessioning and the supposedly sacrosanct notion of holding work in the public trust."