Friday, May 31, 2013

"At what price point do you give up on platitudes about the inviolability of art?"

Ben Davis has an interesting piece on the Detroit situation at ARTINFO.  Though he "of course, find[s] revolting the idea" of selling art, it's miles better than the typical anti-deaccessionist piece because he at least acknowledges that there's another side to the argument:

"But I also understand how, in a city that has been forced to experiment with turning off street lights, righteous rhetoric about DIA's art holdings being a 'public good' might ring a wee bit hollow. Hammering away at fine art’s sanctity while the privatization of the city’s water authority is also 'on the table' seems bound to make pundits seem out of touch."

The usual anti-deaccessionist work, by contrast, begins with a ritual incantation that art is held in the "public trust" and so can't be sold (even though it's sold all the time) and then moves on to the deeply thoughtful view that, because some museum groups have decided it's "unethical" to sell work for some purposes but not others, only a Stalinist would disagree.  Davis at least recognizes there's some complexity to the problem.

Lee Rosenbaum has lots more coverage, including this astonishing quote from the museum's director, Graham Beal:

"[O]ur concern has been not to have [gifts] restricted, so the DIA would be able to deaccession that art to buy different art. We’ve always wanted gifts to be unrestricted. We [will now] have to start inviting donors to put restrictions on gifts."

Hold on a second.  Haven't we been told, over and over again, that the reason museums can't deaccession is that donors won't give if they know their works can be sold?  Why wouldn't somebody say, Why should I give this to you? What guarantee do I have that you're not going to sell this tomorrow?

But now we find out that donors have always known there is no guarantee the work won't be sold and the museums want it that way.

They hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with a chainsaw, assuming Detroit can afford a chainsaw.