Monday, January 05, 2009

Where were we?

Right. Deaccessioning.

The blog will be back in gear tomorrow, but, to kick off the New Year, here's a terrific post by Michael O'Hare, the Cal-Berkeley professor who was quoted in the New York Times article I discussed before the break. You really should read the whole thing, but a few tastes:

"I defy any reader of this [anti-deaccessionist] discourse to infer a goal behind the assertions and pronouncing that could be stated in public with a straight face. My best try: 'the purpose of art is to be in a museum as soon as possible and to stay in that museum forever', with the important corollary 'in a museum does not mean "on display" or accessible to the public!', and museum practice should be evaluated insofar as it serves that end."

"Museums are to put art before people so there is the most, best, engagement between the public and the art. Of course a museum should have a backstock .... But having stuff, other things being equal, especially having more undisplayed work when you already have a lot, does nothing for the goal I stated. And keeping stuff in your basement that has vanishingly small probability of ever being shown in your museum ... is not just ineffective but retrograde. The sale proceeds could pay for lighting, lectures, scholarship, labels, cleaning the toilets, conservation, longer hours, lower admission price, (do I need to go on?) ... yes, or more building with more wall to hang more of your pictures on, and every one of these is a complement to engagement with art. Not an optional feature, or a marketing trick, or something-nice-to-have-if-its-cheap; a complement" (my emphasis).

"Mindless hoarding of whatever art it happens to have, by any particular museum, is irresponsible trusteeship of a patrimony whose purpose is to be seen and appreciated, not to be possessed. Elevating this hoarding, and refusal to think about how resources can be used, to a moral/ethical professional principle is worse, not only nuts but hostile to everything that really matters about art."