Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Up until recently, these institutions have tended to view the stewardship of their art as a public trust, to be passed on to posterity"

Michael J. Lewis compares and contrasts the Fisk and Randolph College deaccessionings:

"One can sympathize with Fisk, which is in dire financial straits. Ever since it was founded in 1866 as a school for freed slaves, it has teetered on the precipice of bankruptcy. Now, with all of its buildings mortgaged to the hilt, it has turned to this sale as a last resort. This is one case where a sale might do some good to gallery-goers: Fisk has never been able to exhibit its 101-piece collection, a gift from Georgia O’Keeffe, properly. The agreement to share its collection with the new Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas means that the public will at last be able to see such extraordinary works as O’Keeffe’s own Radiator Building, along with major works by Pablo Picasso, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin. Although the O’Keeffe estate is contesting the sale, claiming that it violates the terms of the gift, it cannot claim that the college has acted in bad faith.

"Matters are less clear-cut at Randolph .... While the school pleads financial hardship, it is hardly at the point of shutting its doors."

Meanwhile, in The Roanoke Times, John Long, who teaches history at Roanoke College but is also the director of the Salem Museum, argues that while "there is no legal authority to stop Randolph College from selling the four paintings or even tossing them into a bonfire," it's still wrong to view a museum's collection "as glorified yard sale inventory to be sold off to fund operations of the museum -- and still less of a parent organization like a college."