Sunday, September 20, 2020

"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.