Thursday, March 19, 2015

"If you open this discussion with museum people, as I have done, you find out very quickly that you have walked into a hornet’s nest called the 'deaccessioning debate.'" (UPDATED)

I highly recommend this piece, by UC Berkeley's Michael O'Hare, in the new issue of the policy journal Democracy.

The thesis:

"Think about a world in which our great paintings and sculpture are mostly on view instead of where they actually are, which is mostly locked up in the basements and warehouses of a handful of our largest museums. In which you didn’t have to go to one of a half-dozen big cities to see them, and didn’t rush through an enormous museum for a whole day because you paid so much to get in. ... That world is actually within reach, and the main reason we don’t have it is that the people to whom we have entrusted our visual arts patrimony have nailed each other’s feet to the floor so they can’t move toward it, and done so with the tacit approval and even collaboration of government. Big museums have long refused to recognize their unexhibited collections of duplicates and minor works as a financial resource. As a consequence, they are wasting value by keeping these works hidden. If they were redistributed to smaller institutions, and even to private collectors and businesses, they would fund an explosion of the value for which we have museums in the first place: people looking at art and getting more out of it when they do."

But wouldn't that be a violation of the museum directors' code of ethics?  Sure, but:

"this code was not brought down a mountain by Moses; the directors themselves made it up. A code of ethics is a good thing, but it isn’t a law of God or nature. Once upon a time, the lawyers’ code of ethics forbade them to advertise. Now it doesn’t; the republic and the bar endure."

Read the whole, excellent thing.  And for more from O'Hare, see here, here, and here.

UPDATE:  UCLA's Mark Kleiman tweets:  "Curators and art critics have convinced the world that 'deaccessioning' is scandalous. That is the real scandal."