Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Brodsky Beat (UPDATED)

Lee Rosenbaum has the scoop on the forthcoming NY State anti-deaccessioning legislation (mentioned earlier here). She's hearing "the bill will most likely be introduced tomorrow."

The New York State Board of Regents already has rules in place to regulate deaccessioning. But, as Lee explains, "the Board of Regents has authority only over New York museums that were chartered after 1889. Older museums, including the National Academy ..., were chartered directly by the state legislature. The proposed legislation, unlike the Regents' regulations, would apply to all museums in the state, regardless of when they were chartered."

In terms of rationale, it's the same old same old: allowing deaccessioning for any purpose other than acquiring new work would "permanently endanger the integrity and existence of museum collections handed to us by earlier generations as a sacred cultural and ethical trust."

A "sacred cultural and ethical trust" -- unless, of course, a museum wants to acquire some shiny new artworks, in which case: hey, knock yourself out! Sacred shmacred. Sell to your heart's content!

It seems to me the strict anti-deaccessionists' position rests on a particular conception of what a museum is for. As Berkeley's Michael O'Hare (mockingly) summarized it, they seem to think "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."

But there are other ways to think about the museum's role. O'Hare again (with my emphasis):

"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 [that goal]. And keeping stuff in your basement that has vanishingly small probability of ever being shown in your museum ... is not just ineffective but retrograde.


"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 [and now a legal requirement -- DZ] is worse, not only nuts but hostile to everything that really matters about art."

UPDATE: Robin Pogrebin has more in Wednesday's New York Times. She says the bill was introduced late yesterday afternoon; you can read it here. The story notes one open issue under the proposed law:

"Left unresolved is whether museums should include buildings as part of their collections. The bill directs the Board of Regents to study this question further and to submit its findings to the governor and other state officials. Among the questions to consider is whether money from the sale of artworks can be used to care for museum buildings. Matthew Titone, a Democratic assemblyman who represents Staten Island and was a sponsor of the bill, said he believed a historic building ... should be able to benefit from art sales. 'Like any other historical artifact, it is an artifact,' he said. 'Just because it’s big and you can move around in it doesn’t make it any less important than a rifle from the Revolutionary War.'"

Bill Gusky thinks "New York's assemblymen have more important things to attend to than interfering with museums that are just trying to survive."