Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Schrodinger's Deaccession

One additional thought as Deaccession Month gets underway.

If you subscribe to the Standard View on deaccessioning, and I tell you that a museum is selling a work -- or selling 22 works -- you don't know what to think.

You don't know if the sale is horrible and repulsive.

You don't know if, on the other hand, it's a normal act, to be encouraged.

So your attitude towards the sale has nothing to do with thinking that the work is held in the public trust.  And it isn't motivated by worries about the effect on future donations.  If those were really your concerns, you would be opposed to the sale without having to know anything more.

But if you hold the Standard View, you do need to know more.  You need to know how the proceeds of sale will be used.

If it's to buy more art, to add one more work to the thousands already in the museum's collection, you will approve of the sale.  You will see it as a normal act, to be encouraged.

If, however, it's to keep the museum from going out of business, you will be repulsed.  You will demand sanctions.  You will find it absolutely outrageous that a museum would sell off these precious assets that are held in the public trust, to be accessible to present and future generations. You will worry that somebody will say, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?

It's kind of laughable, actually.