Sunday, March 28, 2021

One person who will not be shopping for t-shirts at the Deaccessioning Hall of Fame gift shop ...

 ... is Erik H. Neil of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. Last week, he was seen in the New York Times saying "We are educational institutions. If you want to flip paintings, there are many other types of institutions where you can do that, and they are called commercial galleries." (To which I wondered why flipping paintings to buy more art does not also make you a commercial gallery.)

Now he has expanded on that thought with an op-ed at artnet. It's largely in the slippery slope genre of anti-deaccessioning arguments, but with a twist. He seems to say it may be okay for larger museums to sell work, but worries that sets a bad precedent for smaller museums: "The nation’s biggest museums may hold as many as two million objects each, so selling a redundant work will scarcely be noticed. At most other museums, a lucrative sale would devastate the collection under the pretense of protecting it. For the mega-museums, selling a fourth-ranked Rothko is inconsequential; for a smaller museum, selling its only Rothko might be an irreparable loss." (Though you kind of get the sense he's not that thrilled about larger museums selling things either.)

But the expanded piece seems to me to suffer from the same flaw as the one-liner in the Times. His general position seems to that "when we open our collections for sale, we undercut one of our basic reasons for existing: the duty to care for artwork for the benefit of the public." But in the same piece he mentions that, at his own museum, "we are in the midst of a lengthy collection review that includes culling 'Lost Cause' memorabilia and other works that have never been exhibited and are irrelevant to our mission. Some of these objects have been transferred to institutions better suited to interpret them. Most of the other deaccessioned works are of lower quality (a loaded word, I recognize), in poor condition, or duplicative."

He hastens to add that when they sell work, "the income is used expressly to add to our collection, not to support operations." But what he doesn't explain is why, when they open their collection for sale in that way, it does not undercut one of their basic reasons for existing. You can say you are using the sale proceeds for a good purpose, the approved purpose, the purpose that will keep the haters from hating -- but the fact remains you are opening your collection for sale. How can that even be denied? 

How can you say in one moment selling work undercuts one of your basic reasons for existing and then, in the next moment, talk about how you are culling "lower quality" and "duplicative" works and selling them?

How is this smoke and mirrors act still going on?