Wednesday, February 10, 2021

"As Museums Push to Sell Art, Competing Ideas About Deaccessioning Are Playing Out in Public" (UPDATED)

In ARTnews, Andrew Russeth has a long, balanced piece on the state of the deaccessioning debate, with lots of good quotes, including:

  • Baltimore's Christopher Bedford: "What we are doing is not for everyone, including the Christopher Knights of the world. There is a pressing, pressing, pressing need for change within institutions in this country, because we have been failing in our mission of providing the right kind of service."
  • On the argument that museum board members should just step up and provide the needed funds, Brooklyn's Anne Pasternak: "We’re public institutions. Why is it that a handful of people are expected to carry the burden of a public institution that they didn’t create?"
  • On the same question, the Everson's Elizabeth Dunbar: "We don’t have a huge collecting base here, nor do we have billionaire trustees on our board."
  • Mark Gold: "What’s unethical about using the proceeds from one painting to pay people fairly, or to address social injustice?"
  • Michael O'Hare: "Museums are a public good. We give them special financial privileges and tax-free buildings and whatnot. And their job is to maximize engagement with art and optimize engagement with art.” (Russeth summarizes O'Hare's position as follows: "reverse FASB’s position and make the AAMD’s changes permanent. Force museums to value their art on their balance sheets, then ask them tough questions about what they show, what sits in storage, and what they could sell—perhaps with a preference for other museums—to hire more employees, pay them better, and promote better engagement with art.")
  • Russeth then asks: "Wouldn’t [O'Hare's] course of action push donors and government funding away from supporting museums?" O'Hare's answer: "If the only way by which you can make a claim on people’s wealth and the taxpayer is by lying, then sure. If a rich person asked me about art philanthropy, I would say, Go down the street, walk past the museum to the symphony or chamber-music-presenting organization and give them money—until things change."
  • Christopher Knight calls O’Hare’s ideas "ridiculous" and suggests we "stop thinking like Ronald Reagan. Stop thinking that trickle-down works. It’s a mindset that says the market is the answer to all our problems. And it is not."