Monday, January 05, 2009

Meet Mr. Pareto

One more roundup of deaccessioning posts, and then it's on to other matters (I promise!).

Tyler Green
stakes out the position that it's NEVER alright "for arts institutions to sell off art in order to keep the doors open": "If an institution, such as the National Academy or someone else, can't operate effectively enough to stay open, it should close. Then it should disperse its collection to non-profit institutions -- to other museums. This way art collections held in a public trust remain held in a public trust."

I find that a very odd position to take. How can it possibly be worse to disperse part of a museum's collection (usually a very small part) than to disperse the whole collection? Would we really rather see the National Academy -- around since 1825 -- close and its entire, 7,000 work collection sold off than see two of those 7,000 works sold? I just don't see how that makes any sense.

NPR had a piece on this issue today as well. The National Academy's director says there wasn't enough money to pay guards or buy ink cartridges. The director of the Detroit Institute of Arts says cry me a river: selling off art is akin to chipping away at the institution. "The institution is there to safeguard the art. The art is not there to support the institution." Unless, of course, as I keep saying, the selling off is to buy different art. Then it's not chipping away at the institution. The institution, apparently, is not there to safeguard that art. When it comes to buying more art, suddenly the institution doesn't exist to safeguard the existing collection. But as soon as anyone suggests using those proceeds for any other purpose, then that existing collection becomes untouchable. You wouldn't want the institution to be chipped.

UCLA's Mark Kleiman: "when museum directors gang up on one of their number for selling some inventory to dig her institution out of a financial hole, they're acting like a bunch of snobbish jerks."

Michael Sippey is still undecided.