Thursday, January 07, 2021

Pop quiz: Is this repulsive? (UPDATED)

The New York Times had an article yesterday headlined "San Francisco’s Top Art School Says Future Hinges on a Diego Rivera Mural."

Apparently, the San Francisco Art Institute "was close to losing its campus and art collection to a public sale last fall, when the University of California Board of Regents stepped in to buy its $19.7 million of debt from a private bank, in an attempt to save the 150-year-old institution from collapse," but, despite that, "years of costly expansions and declining enrollment at the institute have put it in peril, a situation that has worsened during the pandemic."

As a result, the institute is considering a sale of "a mural worth $50 million by Diego Rivera that officials say could help balance the budget." According to the Times, "the school has stressed that no final decision has been made to sell the mural. But behind the scenes, administrators and the institute's leaders are strongly pushing to do so, as it would pay off debts and allow them to make ends meet for an annual operating budget that typically runs around $19 million. (The board chairwoman, Pam Rorke Levy, disputed that, saying, 'Our first choice would be to endow the mural in place, attracting patrons or a partner institution that would create a substantial fund that would enable us to preserve, protect and present the mural to the public.')"

My question is: if they do decide that the only way to remain viable is to sell the mural ... would that be repulsive? Would it be unethical?

Would it change your answer if the buyer was "the filmmaker George Lucas [who] was interested in buying the mural for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles," thus satisfying the Ellis Rule?

The Deaccession Police will say the institute should just go shake the Magic Money Tree, but if you read the article you'll see that's not so easy.

UPDATE: SFAI MFA graduate (and conceptual law professor and Deaccessioning Hall of Fame Scholar-in-Residence) Brian Frye tweets: "I think the obvious answer is that the school should absolutely sell the mural. But it should also focus on reforming its board & management. Their incompetence is truly shocking."