From an interview with Charlotte Burns:
"Charlotte Burns: Do you find that the current de-accession policies need adapting?
"Glenn Lowry: Well, I have very strong opinions about de-accessioning, and I don’t pretend for a moment to be aligned with many of my colleagues. I don’t believe you should de-accession to fund operating costs. I think that is a categoric mistake.
"But I do believe that one should de-accession rigorously in order to either acquire more important works of art or build endowments to support programming. Because for me, in the end, it’s all about being sufficiently well-capitalized to program intelligently and to have as few works of art in storage as possible. It doesn’t benefit anyone when there are millions of works of art that are languishing in storage. A— there’s a huge capital cost to that that has a drag on operations. But more importantly, we would be far better off, in my opinion, allowing others to have those works of art that might enjoy them, but even more importantly, converting that to endowed funds that could support public programs, exhibitions, publications.
"So, I have no issue with the anxiety about selling works of art to support daily operations. That’s not an intelligent use of those funds. But I do think we need to re-examine fundamentally how we improve the quality of what we do and what the role of collections are in that context.
"I’m an outlier in that respect. I’ve come to terms with the fact that many of my colleagues see it differently. But I also think I’m right that we are woefully under-capitalized, and there isn’t a single museum in this country—and I put The Museum of Modern Art in that—that is doing a great job of programming, because we don’t have the resources to do that. What we should be doing should be ten times what we’re currently doing.
"Charlotte Burns: What do you think you should be doing?
"Glenn Lowry: More programs that engage more people across a broader platform.
"Charlotte Burns: Right."
Let me re-phrase that: Wow.
It sure is refreshing to stumble across a little sanity in the deaccessioning debate.
One thing I think Lowry may be wrong about is that he's probably not as much of an outlier as he thinks. I've got at least a half dozen museum directors in my hall of fame (including, most recently, MASS MoCA's Joe Thompson), and I bet if you spoke to people privately, away from the watchful eye of the Deaccession Police and their informants, you'd find most of them would be in complete agreement with the position he lays out here.