Monday, April 07, 2014

Shades of grey (UPDATED)

Let me recommend this really good piece on the situation in Delaware, by Timothy Rub of the AAMD.

Instead of the usual approach of this-is-an-easy-question-and-anyone-who-disagrees-is-a-repulsive-Stalinist-philistine-hater-of-art, he begins be acknowledging that "this was a difficult -- indeed, agonizing -- decision."

That alone seems to me to be a huge concession from the usual AAMD position on these things.

He goes on:  "Was it, however, the right decision?"  Some, he says, "accepting the argument that the only alternative was to close the Museum's doors, would agree that it was."  Others would "emphatically" disagree.

Again, a rare concession that there are two sides to this debate.

He asks whether there were "other options that the [Museum] might have explored?"  He says the answer is yes, though doesn't bother to "map these out" -- though the important point, to my mind, is that in doing so he concedes that "such problems do not admit of easy solutions."

He closes by saying that "whatever your opinion on this subject may be, I hope that you'll agree that it is worthy of a spirited public debate."  (I do!  I do!)

This seems to me exactly how these things should be discussed:

First, no one gets to shut down the debate by appealing to some magical "ethics" rules.

The question is always:  was it the right decision in the circumstances?

What will happen if the work isn't sold?

Have all other options been sufficiently explored?

Is it, all things considered, the right thing to do?

It's very similar to how people think about deaccessioning in cases where the sales proceeds are used to buy more art.  Sometimes it seems to make a lot of sense.   Sometimes it doesn't.   But the important thing is that each case is considered on its own merits.  There is no bright line rule.   Nobody gets sanctioned.

If that's the AAMD's new approach to the problem, sign me up.

UPDATE:  Here is a timely overview of deaccessioning issues from Charles and Tom Danziger.