Friday, July 29, 2016

"There’s something strange about the view that universities should never sell their art, no matter what."

It's an interesting, and undeniable, feature of the deaccessioning debate that any time someone from outside the art world looks at the issue -- anyone, that is, who is not worried about being banished from the cool kids table in the cafeteria -- they find the deaccessioning taboo to be nonsensical. (Some previous examples here, here, here, and here.)

The latest is Harvard lawprof Noah Feldman, reacting, in his latest Bloomberg column, to the revelation that Fisk University sold two paintings a few years ago (sold them "under the radar," according to the New York Times ... and don't get me started on the Times's role in all this craziness). Feldman writes:

"The real question is whether a university should treat its works of art as commodities to be sold in a pinch or as fetishes to be worshipped and preserved no matter what. The former view may be a bit crude. But the latter view is absurd for an institution facing financial strain and deep cuts to its education mission. History, legacy and atmosphere can enhance the educational experience. But ultimately, they are supposed to serve education, not take priority over it. Give Fisk a break. Or give it a donation."

He's right that it's absurd -- not just wrong or misguided, but absurd -- and why anyone takes the deaccession police the least bit seriously remains one of life's great mysteries to me.