Saturday, October 07, 2017

Rules and Norms (UPDATED)

Felix Salmon, generally the most articulate defender of the anti-deaccessioning position, has a piece in The New Yorker on the Berkshire Museum controversy, which then led to a (short but) interesting discussion between him and Deaccessioning Hall of Fame scholar-in-residence Brian Frye on Twitter.

Salmon says "I would really love to see some of the anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd [are we a 'crowd'? -- dz] come out and say yes, this deaccessioning is bad."  To which Frye responds:  "I think you make a pretty good case this one is a bad decision on the merits. But I don't think [the AAMD] rules are an appropriate solution."

Not surprisingly, I'm with the scholar-in-residence on this one.  Most importantly, I think this is exactly how the conversation is supposed to go.  Salmon's basic position is:  this deaccessioning is a bad idea, the museum's financial condition is not so bad, they don't *need* to do this.  He may be right about that (I take no position on it) but the implication is that, if the facts were otherwise, if the museum's financial condition was sufficiently desperate or the need could be otherwise sufficiently demonstrated, then the deaccessioning would be justified.  That just is the position of those of us in the anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd.

Contrast Salmon's approach with that of a typical member of the Deaccessioning Police like Christopher Knight, who thinks that, no matter what -- no matter how bad the institution's financial condition, no matter how great the need -- deaccessioning is always wrong in every case.  Better to close the museum than sell any work.

UPDATE:  On cue, a member of the Deaccession Police comes along to remind Salmon that, at the end of the day, he is part of the anti-anti-deaccessioning crowd himself.