Friday, November 27, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
"When the BMA tried to diversify its collection, it learned just how shallow the art world’s commitment to social justice can be."
Sunday, November 22, 2020
"Restitution is widely considered a just and appropriate form of deaccessioning. Might there be other circumstances under which deaccessioning could be considered a form of restitution?"
Very interesting Artforum piece by Julie Pelta Feldman on the Baltimore Museum deaccessioning controversy.
She observes that "the vitriol aimed at BMA director Christopher Bedford and the curators responsible, Asma Naeem and Katy Siegel, has been particularly bitter," mentioning in particular criticisms from Brenda Richardson ("nothing short of horrified"), Christopher Knight ("The sleaze is almost too hard to wrap your head around"), and Martin Gammon (an "onslaught of unbridled commodification"). Summing up the art world reaction, she writes: "Deaccessioning, many critics believe, should not be instrumentalized, no matter how worthy the museum’s plans for its yield."
"Yet," she then points out, "restitution, too, is a type of deaccessioning: through it, an object is removed from the otherwise inviolate realm of a museum’s permanent collection and finds a new home. Unlike many other instances of deaccessioning, this occurs not because the object itself is in some way flawed, damaged, or otherwise undesirable, but because it is the right thing to do. Indeed, restitution would mean little if the artworks and artifacts in question were not precious and important. It represents an acknowledgment of the colonial pillaging that undergirds many of the world’s finest museums, a demonstration of respect to the people who were robbed, an apology to their descendants, and a commitment to redress historical abuse."
She goes on: "For decades, museums that collect modern art have privileged certain artists and art histories at the expense of others. Collection diversification is not simply a worthy goal, it is—like restitution—a necessary correction of inequities embedded deep within museums’ structures, histories, and collections. ... Museums that deaccession works to diversify their collections indeed give up a piece of themselves, but they do so in pursuit of a new wholeness. ... [I]f restitution means surrendering the ownership of an artwork—even or especially a treasured one—in pursuit of justice, the BMA’s new plan might also be understood this way. Critics of deaccessioning worry that curators will succumb to mere fashion. But women and artists of color are not a trend, and neither is a security guard’s right to a living wage."
I suspect one response to this, from those many critics, will be "yes, those are worthy goals, but let the board members pay for them."
A David Hockney portrait sold by the "financially strapped" London Royal Opera House at Christie's for $17 million last month has ended up ... at the London Royal Opera House. It was bought by the chair of the Opera House's board of trustees. "He also has plans to loan it to the reopening exhibition of London’s National Portrait Gallery, where [he] is a trustee, in 2023." "As the Chairman of the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery," he says, "I care deeply about the arts being as accessible as possible and their educational value. I decided to participate in the auction to secure the painting for the British public."
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
"The artists argue the removal of the mural was in violation of their rights, specifically the legally-required preservation of their work, under the Visual Artists Rights Act" (UPDATED 2X)
UPDATE: Brian Boucher picks up the story at artnet. He gets quotes from Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento ("Do these property owners simply wish to not seek legal advice from lawyers? Or, if they do, do they simply disregard the advice?") and Amy Adler ("[VARA is] incompatible with deep-seated American notions of what it means to own property, and the idea that if you own something, you can do whatever you want with it").
UPDATE 2: Brian Frye says "the discussion of 'recognized stature' should be interesting in the case of this work." Andrew Gilden adds that it's "really hard to assess [a] VARA claim when you subjectively mourn the loss of a particular queer art/space but fear that the space lacks sufficiently 'recognized stature' within the community more broadly."
Monday, November 16, 2020
The Guardian on the UK version of the deaccessioning debate.
It includes the following: "In England, the rules about these matters are laid down by the Museums Association’s code of ethics, used to set Arts Council England’s standards, and they state that artefacts 'should not normally be regarded as financially negotiable assets'."
Obviously that puts a lot of weight on normally. In the U.S., by contrast, the "ethical" rule is artworks should not
normally ever be regarded as financially negotiable assets unless the plan is to use the sale proceeds to buy other artworks in which case feel free to regard them as financially negotiable assets.
Saturday, November 14, 2020
The New York Times reports that the Village of Kinderhook says a Nick Cave text-based work installed on the facade of Jack Shainman's upstate gallery is "a sign, and hence in violation of local code, and wants it removed."
Friday, November 13, 2020
Carolina Miranda has a column in the LA Times on the (now paused) Baltimore Museum of Art deaccessioning plan. It's of the "the goal was absolutely commendable" but "the methods used to achieve that worthy goal were questionable" genre.
One thing caught my eye, and I'm not sure how much (if anything) to read into it. Instead of saying that the works owned by museums are "held in the public trust," as is typical, she writes:
"A museum’s collection is held in the public interest — think of it as a shared cultural resource — and shouldn’t be treated as an asset. Selling off works to make operational changes dips into that resource — in this case, without first reassessing budget priorities or pressing wealthy benefactors to pitch in."
Friday, November 06, 2020
Bloomberg: "Sotheby’s allowed $27 million of art to be purchased tax-free by Porsal Equities ... even though the auction house knew the client wasn’t an art dealer but was instead a collector buying for his personal use, the state said in a lawsuit filed Friday. Only dealers planning to resell art qualify for exemptions to city and state sales tax, the state said."
Thursday, November 05, 2020
Sunday, November 01, 2020
One talking point the deaccession police seem to have coalesced around recently is that, while they agree with the goals behind the Baltimore sale, the right way to achieve those goals is for the board members to pony up the cash, rather than by selling art. Glenn Adamson summarized that position (on his way to critiquing it) as "diversifying collections, while a worthy goal, should be paid for by trustees, not through high-profile art sales." Hilarie Sheets's recent NYT article quotes a former Baltimore board chairman's criticism of the museum for "taking what seems to be a shortcut approach to monetize the art instead of doing the more difficult work of fund-raising and development." And the National Review's Brian T. Allen (former director of the Addison Gallery) puts it this way: "If the rich honkies want to strike a blow for equity, they should open their own wallets. ... The director, if he wants to buy art by artists based on race or gender or nationality, should go out and raise the money from donors."
My question is how come no one ever makes this argument when museums sell work to buy other art? How come nobody says those acquisitions should be paid for by trustees, not through art sales? Why isn't that seen as taking a shortcut approach of monetizing art instead of doing the more difficult work of fund-raising and development? Why don't we say, if a director wants to buy art (not just by artists based on race or gender or nationality, but any art), she should go out and raise the money from donors?
Hilarie Sheets in the New York Times on the different responses in the art world to the announced sales by the Brooklyn Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art: "If the disparate reactions to the two sales are a bit bewildering, welcome to the world of deaccessioning."
She mentions the following as possible explanations for the different reactions. In Brooklyn, "the [financial] need was acute." They were (according to their director) "extremely conservative" in their selection of objects for sale: the Monet, for example (the sale included works by Monet, Matisse, and Miró), was "not one of his great works nor close to the best in our collection." The museum "has been cautious in how the money would be allocated in its collection’s care fund. 'We didn’t just say, "Here’s all the salaries for the conservators"; we estimated the time they would actually spend caring for an object.'"
Baltimore, on the other hand, "had a balanced budget and no layoffs or furloughs." The intention of the sale is "to raise funds for more equity-based initiatives at [the] museum — in a city with a 68 percent Black population," to "acquire more work by underrepresented artists and to create an endowment for collection care that would free up about $2.5 million in the budget for staff-wide pay increases and other equity-oriented measures." Arnold Lehman, a former director of both museums, is quoted as saying the works involved are "masterpieces — as good as you’re going to get of late Warhol, as good as you’re going to get of Marden and a fabulous Still.” The Still, "a gift of the artist who lived in Maryland late in his life, is also the only work of his in the collection."
Sheets says the AAMD "expressed no concerns at first" -- "'They are in line with how A.A.M.D. has defined this resolution for this period of time,' its executive director, Christine Anagnos, said at the time of the announcement" -- but "the blowback was swift from art critics, historians and museum professionals." She quotes from the resignation letter of a former board chairman (and now honorary trustee), Charles Newhall III, who says "I certainly do not believe that one sells masterpieces to fund diversity," and another former trustee who opposes "taking what seems to be a shortcut approach to monetize the art instead of doing the more difficult work of fund-raising and development."
She ends, however, by quoting Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., of the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore, who asks “Is the value in the art or is the value in the accessibility of others to have access to the art and to have their art valued as well?," and she gives the last word to Christopher Bedford, Baltimore's director:
"As an institution, we value the perspectives of colleagues and understand the importance of adhering to the professional guidelines that govern our field. I do believe, though, that the moment has come to more deeply consider the standards by which museums operate. The turmoil we are experiencing is not simply financial; it is the result of entrenched systems that cannot sustain the moment or the future. Our communities are calling us to action, to move beyond words and symbols."