Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tell me again about the "public trust" (a continuing series)

The Cleveland Museum of Art is selling "more than two dozen European old master paintings in the largest sell-off from its collection in more than a half-century."

Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento predicts that "the anti-deaccessioning police will be all over this," but I tend to doubt it. As long as the museum claims (as Cleveland does here) that the sales proceeds will be used to buy more art, they will remain quiet.

They will forget that once an object falls under the aegis of a museum, it is held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations.

They won't worry that potential donors will say, "Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?"

No, they won't say a word. But sell those same two dozen works -- or even any one of them -- and use the proceeds to, say, keep from going bankrupt, and you're looking at front page stories in the New York Times, non-stop hand wringing from the usual hand-wringers, calls for sanctions, calls for legislation, and on and on.