Sunday, February 28, 2021

András Szántó on Deaccessioning

Another interesting deaccession-related interview today.

I loved this bit:

"The debates have a kind of theological tint to them. There's a great deal of passion and conviction and categorical statements around issues which by their nature are highly complex. I think they also reflect a certain lack of faith in institutions to make the right judgments .... I also think the issue is particular to each museum. Some museums have been collecting 150 years, others have not. I agree with those who worry about a slippery slope, but I don't believe that you can take a categorical position against it. It's like a medical procedure—there are so many variables that come into play."

I think that's basically the right approach. Drop the dogmatism. Acknowledge the complexity. Have faith in our institutions. Take each case individually. Avoid taking a categorical position. Consider all the variables.

Why is that so hard?

He also gives the following hypothetical example of how an institution "could unlock value from an existing collection":

"Institution A is an impoverished institution with a stellar collection. Institution B is a very wealthy and well endowed institution with a very weak collection. Could Institution A and B agree to a co-ownership agreement where the wealthy institution provides the funding, and the other institution provides access to the masterpiece? Would that be controversial?"

I mentioned a similar hypothetical here, and spoiler alert: Yes, that would be controversial, because that would be seen as "monetizing" the collection and monetizing the collection is (categorically) wrong, on theological grounds.

And last, in response to "the argument against deaccessioning that's been made by some critics, namely that the trustees of the museums in question should step up and dip into their pockets" (or as some say, "it's on their fat asses") he says, first, "it's very interesting to me as a European that a lot of the most progressive voices are looking to wealthy people to solve problems," and second, that part of the problem is that it's no longer the case, as it once was, that "the apex of what it meant to be a philanthropist was that you were the chairman of the board at the local museum," and one way to deal with that problem is that if "the museum opens up, becomes a vital community resource, addresses all kinds of social needs for a much wider range of people and contributes in ways small and large to the health of our society" -- as opposed, we might say, to just hoarding art -- "I think it will be easier to imagine people with this great capacity getting behind museums."