Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Ellis Rule in Action

Those who are deeply, deeply concerned that works, once held in the public trust, remain held in the public trust must have been happy to have it confirmed this week that the Lucas Museum was the buyer of Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" from the Berkshire Museum.

I kid, of course.  They're not happy at all.  But imagine this one sale was all the museum needed to solve its serious financial trouble.  (Not too big a stretch, actually:  the purchase price was not disclosed, but Sotheby's had previously estimated it at $20-30 million.)  It's hard to see how anybody could object to that.  The museum solves its problem, and the work stays in the public domain.  Sure, maybe the people of the Berkshires "lose" one of "their" many Rockwells, but that's offset by the fact that the (many more) people of Los Angeles gain a Rockwell.  It's a win-win, isn't it?

But you just know that, if that were the whole transaction, the Deaccession Police would be just as outraged as they always are.  It would be unethical.  It would be repulsive.   It would be Stalinesque.  The whole usual drill.

Their utter inability to distinguish between cases -- to see any relevant ethical difference between a sale by a struggling museum to another, better funded museum, on the one hand, and a sale by a flush museum to a private collector to raise funds for day-to-day operating expenses, for example -- suggests that there is something deeply wrong with their approach.  But they're oblivious to it, or at least pretend to be.