Monday, October 26, 2020

"In defence of progressive deaccessioning"

Glenn Adamson makes the case in Apollo magazine.

He addresses three arguments critics have made in recent days.

The first is that "equity in collections is such a distant goal that there’s no point even trying to achieve it." His response:

"[Christopher] Knight calculated that ‘the Everson would need to unload half of its collection for it to reflect the diversity of a city that is 45% nonwhite.’ Art historian Tyler Green, similarly, has said, ‘none of these sales fundamentally address these institutions’ histories of racism or sexism. They are attempts to elide a broader, deeper self-examination’. Against such objections, one might reasonably ask: if progressive deaccessioning doesn’t count as addressing problematic institutional histories, what would? It took generations for museums to establish themselves as bastions of white supremacy. No one believes that undoing this legacy will be either quick or easy. Surely we should not accept that sexism and racism are so entrenched that they cannot be uprooted? The only way to begin is to begin."

The second is that "diversifying collections, while a worthy goal, should be paid for by trustees, not through high-profile art sales." He says "this may sound persuasive – if you’ve never worked in a museum. If you have, it will probably provoke a bitter laugh. Directors and development officers are already raising money as fast as they can ...." (I've previously referred to this as the Magic Money Tree argument.)

The third – and "perhaps the most convincing" – is that "it results in important works being lost from public view." But here too, he says, "there is an obvious rejoinder: the great majority of museum collections are in storage anyway. If a work will not see the light of day in the foreseeable future, and is well published both online and otherwise – ... it’s not clear what exactly the general public is losing when such a work enters private hands. True, external scholars may have less direct access to it in the future; but those same scholars might well agree that their own academic interests are less important than equity in our institutional collections."