Sunday, September 20, 2020
... an interesting conversation between him and another friend of the blog, artist/lawyer Alfred Steiner, at Brian's excellent Ipse Dixit podcast. Here's a good recent example of a Steiner project -- a Public License for Criminal Use.
... is that the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse is deaccessioning a Jackson Pollock -- estimated at $12-18 million -- and will use the proceeds to diversify its collection. The Baltimore Museum did something similar a couple years ago.
I would have guessed that, because the sales proceeds are being used to buy more art (among other reasons), this would be non-controversial, but surprisingly (to me at least) it's been met with a good deal of criticism. Both Christopher Knight and Lee Rosenbaum have come out strongly against it.
In response to Knight's piece, Deaccessioning Hall of Fame Scholar-in-Residence Brian Frye tweets: "Christopher Knight, the Inspector Clouseau of the Deaccessioning Police, now has a bee in his bonnet about the Everson Museum selling a Pollock in order to diversify its collection. Amusingly, he can't even invoke the (meaningless) AAMD deaccessioning rules, which expressly allow museums to sell works in order to buy different works. All he can do is whine that the museum is selling a work he happens to like in order to buy something else. Tell me more about how 'diversity is important, but...'?"
Everson Director Elizabeth Dunbar says:
"The murder of George Floyd and a string of senseless killings of Black lives have propelled us into urgent discussions surrounding the Museum’s role and responsibility in fighting racism inside and outside our walls. Now is the time for action. By deaccessioning a single artwork, we can make enormous strides in building a collection that reflects the amazing diversity of our community and ensure that it remains accessible to all for generations to come."
In response, Knight says this approach -- selling work "to the highest bidder [as a] way to bring racial and gender equity to the institution going forward" -- is "balderdash. The Everson would need to unload half of its collection for it to reflect the diversity of a city that is 45% nonwhite, according to the most recent census estimate." He also says the trend of museums "sell[ing] art by blue-chip white artists to create a diversity acquisition fund" is a "terrible" one: "The goal of diversifying white patriarchal patterns of museum art collecting is hugely important. This sort of quick fix belies the seriousness."
UPDATE: A local response to Knight here.
"It is the kind of sale that once would have engendered criticism, perhaps even sanctions .... But it is now completely within the parameters of loosened regulations ...."
I've been behind on my blogging the last few weeks, but the big news of course was the announcement by the Brooklyn Museum that it would be selling 12 works -- including paintings by Cranach, Courbet and Corot -- to raise funds for the care of its collection.
As the Times article points out, the Museum is the first major institution "to take advantage of" the (temporary) change in the AAMD's deaccessioning guidelines, announced in April.
One point I haven't made before about that change is how it completely undermines the public trust argument against deaccessioning. If you really believe that a museum holds its collection in the public trust -- as if the museum is the trustee and the public is the beneficiary -- then how does a change in policy by some third-party organization release the works from the public trust? Where does the AAMD get that power? Who made it the arbiter of what is or is not held in public trust?
The other thing that undermines the public trust argument against deaccessioning, as I've said a million times here before, is that museums sell works all the time, so obviously they can't be held in the public trust. If the Museum in this case had announced it was selling the same 12 works and putting the sales proceeds in a bank account labeled "acquisition fund," no one would have batted an eye. But using the same proceeds to care for its collection brings out the usual ritual denunciations.