Fintan O'Toole has an anti-deaccessioning piece in The Irish Times, pegged to the proposed sale of paintings from the Beit collection at Russborough House in County Wicklow.
It's of course nicely written, and he takes the position that "[t]he guiding truth on this whole issue should be that laid down by Susan Taylor, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors in the US: 'The principle for us is that works of art shouldn’t be considered liquid assets to be converted into cash. They’re records of human creativity that are held in the public trust.'"
But nowhere in the piece does he mention the inconvenient fact that the Association of Art Museum Directors in the US is perfectly happy to consider works of art liquid assets and convert them into cash ... just so long as the proceeds are used to buy more art. In that case, they somehow cease to be records of human creativity that are held in the public trust.
Look, there are two coherent positions on this whole issue.
One is the one O'Toole sketches out here: works of art should not be converted into cash. They are records of human creativity that are held in the public trust. To sell them is an ugly deed.
That's a coherent position. It needs, in my view, to reckon with the kinds of counterargument that Michael O'Hare, for example, makes against it here. But it's not an irrational stance to take.
The other coherent position is O'Hare's: yes, these are enormously valuable things, and generally worth holding onto, but sometimes, depending on the circumstances, the benefits of selling one may exceed the costs. You may not agree with it, you may make a different value judgment, but it's clearly not an irrational view.
But what's not a coherent position is the one the AAMD (and the rest of art world establishment) takes -- that works of art are records of human creativity held in the public trust and cannot be converted for cash, except when the museum wants to use the proceeds for one particular purpose (out of the hundreds of possible purposes), in which event they somehow cease to be held in the public trust and suddenly can be converted into cash without controversy.
Or, put even more simply (and to sum up thousands and thousands of words I've written on this issue at the blog): they're either held in the public trust or they're not.
And, as I've also argued repeatedly, the museums themselves, by their own actions (routinely selling off works from their collections), tell us the answer is they're not.