Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Do "non-collecting entities" hold their (non) collections in the public trust?

Last month, in a highly creative use of spin, Napa, California's di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art announced that they were going to start selling works to provide funding for their endowment, but it wasn't really a case of prohibited deaccessioning, it was just that they had "voted to cease collecting" and to thereby officially become a "non-collecting entity."

The spin seemed to work for a while -- there wasn't the usual uproar from the Deaccession Police -- but now San Francisco Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais calls them out:

"[I]t is a proposal that reeks of opportunism, trumpeted as a solution to financial woes by a board and director too inept or too lazy to carry out their central responsibilities, seemingly blind to the fact that if they can’t balance the books now, an infusion of art-sale proceeds will be burned through eventually and the organization will be back to where it is now. … Di Rosa might well argue that it is not subject to the standards required of museums. Both the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors have policies requiring so-called 'deaccession' sale proceeds be used only to improve the collection, but di Rosa is not an accredited institution. That’s a technical out, but not an ethical one. Both the di Rosa’s director, Robert Sain, and its collections consultant, Graham Beal, have worked in major U.S. museums. They know the standards and the justifications for them."

It's interesting to see Beal's involvement here.  It was not that long ago that he had "cemented his status as the field's most articulate spokesperson against desperation deaccessions" by insisting that "the institution is there to safeguard the art. The art is not there to support the institution."

In any case, expect a pile on by the usual suspects.