Friday, December 25, 2009

Claremont Museum to Close on December 27

No mention of deaccessioning, but worth mentioning.

Bowing to continued financial pressure and a lack of donations, the Claremont Museum of Art said today that it would close its doors to the public on Dec. 27, 2009, and move its permanent collection to a warehouse.

More from the LA Times.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Big a Part Does Deaccessioning Play in New Acquisitions?

LACMA's Allison Agsten writes in LACMA's blog about how the museum acquires new artworks. She mentions deaccessioning, and interestingly, it seems that only a small fraction of new works comes via this practice.

A smaller slice of the funds [for new acquisitions] comes from deaccessioning, the practice of selling lesser works in the collection to buy greater works, and also from the interest generated by the museum’s endowment that is restricted for art purchase.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Historical Society Deaccessions to Survive

Just minutes from writing about the RISD fiasco (below), this comes in from a faithful reader.

From Sign On San Diego:

The Villa Montezuma, with its stained-glass images of Shakespeare and the Greek poet Sappho, is San Diego’s most storied and elaborate Victorian, built just east of downtown during the boom of the 1880s. Operated as a museum since the 1970s by the San Diego Historical Society, the idea was to celebrate San Diego’s past.

The historical society has struggled with its budget during the recession, cutting staff and closing the Villa to the public in 2007.

And to substantiate my "economic times will force us to face reality" argument, this from Maria Bolivar, a Mesa College professor and member of the Villa friends board and a Sherman Heights activist, "tough economic times are forcing nonprofit cultural organizations to dispose of some of their holdings to survive."

Did Deaccessioning Thoughts Lead to RISD Director's Ouster?

The LA Times' Mike Boehm thinks the recent RISD debacle concerning RISD's museum director, Hope Alswang, may have something to do with the dreaded "d" word.

"[A]t play at RISD (as at Brandeis University) were college-museum politics: the idea that it might be necessary to liquidate works held by the art museum, for the sake of shoring up the parent institution’s finances. The Globe reports that two faculty members at RISD proposed such a sale and that the museum’s director was openly unhappy when the college’s president, John Maeda, didn’t summarily reject it. Maeda said it should be discussed even though he was personally opposed to selling any art. Just how much deaccessioning and fallout from construction expenditures played into the apparent cashiering of RISD's museum director, Hope Alswang, is unclear, because neither she nor Maeda has made any substantive public statements."

Is this a sign of the true financial health of art institutions, or how disengaged some museum executives are with the true status of the economy, its future, and its current and future repercussions?

Boehm also thinks this is related to last year's Art Center uproar over architectural expenditures.

Former Director of Royal Academy and Milwaukee Art Museum Disagrees with AAMD

In an interview with David Gordon, former director of the Royal Academy of Arts, in London, and the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), Artinfo asked Gordon on his position vis-a-vis deaccessioning. Here is his reply:

The position of the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors is that it is always wrong unless the funds are used to buy new art. I disagree. Suppose you have a museum in a city that has fallen on hard times and its base of support has diminished but it still has a great collection. You wish to make sure that the museum stays open six days a week, that its artworks are being conserved and that it’s able to put on adventurous exhibitions, but you don’t have the money to do any of this. As you cut costs, you are in particular danger of weakening the conservation program, so that the fundamental function of the museum, as a guardian of works, is jeopardized. In that circumstance, it seems wrong to say, "Well, you can’t do anything that involves the art."


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Powerful International Museum Council Takes Strong Anti-Deaccessioning Stance

Those strongly against the deaccessioning of artworks for any purpose other than to improve the quality or composition of a museum's collection may be interested in Mexico's recent resolution against the practice of museum deaccessioning.

CIMAM (International Committee of ICOM for Museums and Collections of Modern Art) adopted a resolution on November 10, 2009, stating strict guidelines for deaccessioning. This resolution defines the purposes of an art museum; the purpose of a museum's collection; deaccessioning; the purposes of deaccessioning; criteria for deaccessioning; who is responsible for the preservation and conservation of its collection; legal issues and donor intent; modes and methods of disposal; and its implementation and enforcement.

CIMAM boasts a strong board of directors, including Kasper König (Museum Ludwig), Christine Van Assche (Centre Pompidou), Sheena Wagstaff (Tate Modern), as well as Neal Benezra (SF MoMA).

You may read the resolution via PDF format here.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

British Museums Loosen Deaccessioning Grip

Starting in January, Britain's strict law against museums deaccessioning items in their collections is going to become a little less absolute. Until now, it was against the law for any British national museum to let go of any object in its collection, no matter what the reason. But now, new legislation will allow the institutions to return to their rightful owners items looted by Nazis.

A step in the right direction. More from Artinfo here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Public Votes on London Museum's Deaccessioning

Time magazine's Gaelle Faure reports on the University College London's Museum's (UCLM) deaccessioning of parts of its collections (of some 250,000 items in total, only 2% of which are currently on display). What's interesting about this deaccessioning is that the UCLM is giving its public an opportunity to pick which items should be jettisoned. To those wondering why the museum just doesn't keep it all:

To be sure, not everything in a museum's collection is worth keeping, let alone putting on display. [Collections review assistant Subhadra] Das puts it diplomatically: "Sometimes [donors]bring us wonderful things, and sometimes, well, they're not quite for us."

Read more here.

Brodsky's Thoughts at Cardozo Law

It's been pretty quiet on the deaccessioning front. However, I just found out that NY Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (author of the anti-deaccessioning Brodsky bill) visited Cardozo Law School, where he gave his thoughts on deaccessioning. Here's a snippet:

It seems wrong for lawmakers to be making largely artistic choices on the behalf of cultural institutions, but Brodsky argues that the Bill would not enable legislative authorities to make such choices. Instead, he insists that the lawmakers are only requiring public disclosure of a clear mission statement. Within that mission, the museums are largely autonomous. If a work is not within the statement, it may be deaccessioned. If the museum wants to alter its statement so that it no longer encompasses certain works, then it must do so publicly. Collections are held in the public trust, Brodsky argues, and they must be maintained for the public benefit. The impetus driving this Bill is the fear that institutions will sell works to keep the doors open, and institutions will be left with open doors and no paintings.

Reading Brodsky's thoughts gives one hope that he's finally realizing the economic severity faced by museums and art institutions, and if the Brodsky bill restricts the use of funds acquired through deaccessioning to only the purchase of new works, museums will face dire financial situations which will force them to lay-off staff in droves, not to mention lower the academic and aesthetic design and implementation of their planned exhibitions.

You can read about his visit and thoughts here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rose Art Museum Trial Dates Set

Mark your calendars. The trial dates for the Rose Art Museum debacle have been set for June 29 and July 1, 2010. Brandeis University's The Justice has more.

St. Lawrence University Art Gallery to Deaccession 177 Artworks

St. Lawrence University's Richard F. Brush Art Gallery is auctioning 177 works valued at upwards of $200,000. The college said it is deaccessioning the art from its catalogue in order to make more room for other works in its 7,000-piece permanent collection. The Watertown Daily News has a little bit more here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Furloughs and Deaccessioning at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

According to the Chicago Tribune, "nearly 300 staff members at the Indianapolis Museum of Art will have to take an unpaid week off during the coming months in the latest cutback for the museum. Spokeswoman Katie Zarich say the furloughs, along with less spending on contractors, advertising and travel, are needed as the museum makes a 5.5 percent cut from this year's $25.5 million budget." Read the Museum's Budget Reduction Statement here.

The website, Art Knowledge News reports that,

The Indianapolis Museum of Art has embarked on a systematic evaluation of its collection since 2007 to identify candidates for deaccessioning (e.g. sale, transfer, or exchange). All objects proposed for deaccessioning are subject to the criteria and procedures outlined in the IMA's Deaccession Policy. Since 2007, the furniture, antiquities, textiles, American painting, European painting and contemporary collections have been reviewed and assessed. The decorative arts, Asian art and African collections are currently under review with additional works proposed for deaccessioning to be presented for approval at the May and December 2009 Collections Committee and Board of Governors meetings.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brandeis' Motion to Dismiss Not Approved

According to Brandeis University's newspaper, The Justice, Brandeis' "motion to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to preserve the Rose Art Museum's collection was not approved at a hearing that took place" yesterday. Judge Stahlin has allowed the plaintiffs to remain a part of the lawsuit in order to show that "their gifts to the Rose should be returned to them under theories known as equitable reversion and fraud." However, the University would have to contact the Attorney General's Office to give them a minimum of 30 days' notice before selling art. This is a bit odd, but it seems, and this is a conjecture, that Brandeis may be allowed to sell its art collection, just not those art objects previously donated to the university by the plaintiffs in this case.

More from The Justice here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blanden Memorial Art Museum to Proceed with Deaccessioning

After meeting some internal board requirements and federal requests, the Blanden Memorial Art Museum will continue with its planned deaccessioning.

Dr. Matt Maggio, vice president of the museum's board, said leaders of the city-owned art gallery have talked about having such a sale for 10 years. He added that the auction has been actively planned for three years and four months.

After voting to bar themselves and family members from buying any art at auction, the board also removed eight pieces from auction.

The withdrawal of those pieces came after the U.S. General Services Administration contacted City Manager David Fierke on Thursday and asked the museum to refrain from selling any Depression-era artwork commissioned by the government. That agency requested that any such unwanted works be sent to the federal government.

More from Fort Dodge, Iowa's Messenger.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"The sale of assets could eventually include the sale of artwork from the Rose Art Museum"

Anti-deaccessionists will not like this, but would they really prefer a boarded-up university with artworks in storage?

The Brandeis Hoot reports,

The university’s latest Fiscal Year 2010 budget projection is “a little worse” than last May’s projection, in part due to potential problems in raising restricted funds for the university’s operating budget, Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Jeff Apfel announced at yesterday’s faculty meeting. Such changes in the budget, while small, only serve to remind the university of the many budget cuts that are still to come to help balance the university’s budget in the years leading up to 2014.

Possible solutions: dipping into its reserve fund, but that would only take the university through 2013. The other alternative: "the sale of artwork from the Rose Art Museum."

According to The Hoot, even if Brandeis increases enrollment by 400 students (impacting class size and professorial teaching loads) and lays off 35 staff members, Brandeis will still face a budget gap.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Economic Impact on Art Galleries and Museums

The Journal Star on the economic impact on galleries and museums.

The scariest example of proposed deaccessioning: Brandeis University considered closing its Rose Art Museum and selling off its collection, estimated at $350 million, to raise funds. That controversial plan was rejected earlier this month, and Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz, who had proposed the sale, resigned last week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sotheby's to Proceed With Polaroid Auction Despite Protests

Dismissing photographers' protests, Sotheby’s plans to go ahead with its sale of 1,300 prints from the Polaroid collection, which are valued between $7 million and $11 million. For background on this story, click here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Legal Issues in Museum Deaccessioning

The law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP has a nice snapshot on their blog concerning the legal issues facing museums and deaccessioning.

Ethical controversy aside, a museum or other nonprofit may not have the legal right to sell off a given piece of art. It depends entirely on the terms of the specific instrument - often a will, trust or fractional gift rather than an outright deed of gift - through which the institution acquired the art in question. Such terms will be interpreted in line with legal precedent that may favor donor intent over current institutional interests.

All nonprofits - not just museums - are subject to oversight by state attorneys general. While AGs often have more urgent priorities than the role of nonprofit watchdogs, the art collector/donor community is composed of precisely those individuals who can set an investigation in motion with a phone call or two. In order to protect themselves, nonprofit trustees should be able to show that they have acted in good faith and exercised due care in arriving at their decision, and considered alternatives to selling the art.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brandeis Files Motion to Dismiss

According to Brandeis University's newspaper, The Justice, Brandeis has filed a motion today to dismiss the lawsuit seeking to preserve the Rose Art Museum's collection. The motion will be heard Oct. 13. Outside counsel Thomas Riley expressed the dire situations facing colleges and universities at large, and given the dramatic endowment losses reported by the Ivy League last week, Brandeis can't be blamed.

Donn Zaretsky has a good analysis on the motion to dismiss here, arguing strongly that donors, in this case the Rose family, have little if any standing.

"Time and again, Massachusetts courts and the Legislature have rejected the notion that donors or their heirs have standing ... to enforce their vision of how a charitable organization should operate. The authority to supervise charities in this way is reserved exclusively to the Attorney General."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blanden Memorial Art Museum to Deaccession Dropped Off Artworks

As a prime example of how deaccessioning can be done for the financial benefit of a museum, Iowa's Blanden Memorial Art Museum will sell 360 pieces in an Art is For Everyone Sale and Auction Oct. 10, 2009 at the new Bioscience and Health Sciences Building on the Iowa Central Community College campus.

According to The Messenger,

The work being sold has either been de-accessioned - that is, formally removed from the Blanden permanent collection through the board's action - or is orphan art. Orphan art is work that was given to the Blanden, but was never formally included into the museum's collection through accession.

According to museum director Maggie Skove, there are some very good reasons for this deaccessioning: "There's no space. We don't have the money to conserve. They're not worth conserving. The alternative of building a new vault area is simply out of the question."

Anti-deaccessionists and museum romantics (read: Tyler Green and Lee Rosenbaum) should hold their fire, because although the museum's permanent collection is comprised of work by some famous artists, such as Kandinsky, Klee, Calder, Chagall, Miro and Prendergast, the museum is adamant that "They are not for sale." In fact, according to the museum, the pieces either have no market in the art world, no auction record value, or were simply "just dropped at the door."

To make anti-deaccessionists even more comfortable, the museum will have a "document explaining the museum's de-accessioning process...available at its east door now and will be available to the public at the auction."

More from Iowa's Messenger here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Deaccessioning Roundup: Fall 2009

Modern Art Notes' Tyler Green highlights upcoming deaccessions, including The Hirshhorn, the Montclair Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Brandeis Restricts Access to All Rose Art Museum-related Materials

Brandeis University has restricted access to all Rose Art Museum-related materials in the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections until the completion of a review pertaining to a lawsuit filed by three members of the museum's Board of Overseers.

According to the University's legal counsel, Judith Sizer, "Full access to Rose-related documents housed in the archives will be reinstated when the review has been concluded, subject to any exigencies that may stem from the litigation recently filed against the University."

Task Force Formed to Educate University Trustees

From the College Art Association's website:

In response to troubling trends in university museums and galleries—including the sale of Maier Art Museum paintings by Randolph College, the closure of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, and the threat of sale of important modernist works at Fisk University—a task force was formed that includes CAA, the American Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of College and University Museums and
Galleries, and the Kress Foundation to address ways to educate university trustees about the educational value of university museums and to explore protective avenues. A
petition was circulated to various associations and also set up online, which received several thousand signatures—including many from CAA members. The petition will be published in the Chronicle of Higher Education later this fall. Quiet conversations are continuing with Brandeis trustees, and several university accreditation commissions have been apprised of the concerns of the task force and the visual-arts field.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Is Brandeis (smartly) Preparing for a Legal Battle?

Brandeis University's newspaper, The Brandeis Hoot, wonders if the university has taken a more aggressive approach to defending a lawsuit filed by three Rose Art Museum benefactors against the university.

The university’s approach towards opponents of its reconfiguration of the Rose Art Museum has taken a turn from conciliatory to combative, most recently marked by the hiring of former Massachusetts State Attorney General Tom Reilly to serve as outside legal council in a lawsuit filled by three Rose Art Museum benefactors against the university.

I'm not sure why hiring an attorney with ample litigation exprience is "harsher" or "combative." In fact, one could argue that Brandeis is simply acknowledging their legal and ethical duties to the university, board members, professors, staff, community, and its students. This is echoed by university Provost Marty Krauss:

“That is, that the University has a responsibility to provide the very best education and faculty to fulfill its higher educational agenda. Apparently, these three overseers are oblivious to the Brandeis mission.”

The Hoot does index another viable possibility for hiring this "combative" attorney:

The university’s decision to hire Reilly, therefore, could indicate a fear that the Rose plaintiffs are less likely to settle than Sumner Kalman, who told The Hoot he was not interested in a long legal battle. It could also indicate that the university believes any negotiation with the Rose plaintiffs would be more complicated, and would require a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of Massachusetts State laws, such as a former attorney general.

Very true. And all signs of smart lawyering!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Whitney Museum Axes Eight Employees

According to Artinfo:

Eight full- and part-time positions were eliminated at the Whitney, including a major gifts officer, a senior lecturer in education, and an adjunct curator of architecture.

and according to Crains:

Arts and culture staffing firm Thomas & Associates has been engaged to help with outplacement services for the former Whitney employees.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

NY State Board of Regents Issues Proposed Final Regulations

The NY State Board of Regents has just come out with its proposed permanent amendment that would govern the deaccessioning practices of museums and historical societies chartered by the board. Keep in mind that if passed, the Brodsky Bill would affect the deaccessioning practices of all New York State museums.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cleveland Museum of Art Eliminates 14 Jobs

The Cleveland Museum of Art, pressed by a plunge in the value of its endowment, eliminated jobs held by fourteen employees this week and decided to leave another eight positions vacant.

More from Artforum here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"It is the people at the top who deserve the most opprobrium."

Artnet's Ben Davis has just written The Museum Bubble, a detailed analysis on the financial troubles faced by museums and art institutions. Davis' scathing analysis points the finger at the "art bureaucrats at the top, those pious guardians of our nonprofit castles of culture."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Supreme Judicial Court Won't Hear Suit Against Brandeis

Just in from The Boston Herald:

The Supreme Judicial Court won’t hear the lawsuit filed by three top Rose Art Museum patrons against Brandeis University over its decision to close the Waltham cultural site and sell off some $350 million of art. The SJC transferred the case to the Suffolk probate court.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rose Overseers Sue Brandeis

This story is all over the blogosphere, but this from The Wall Street Journal:

Three overseers of Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum sued the college, seeking to halt plans to sell prized works from the museum's $350 million collection.

The three plaintiffs and Rose overseers filing the suit are: Lois Foster, who has a museum wing named after her and says Brandeis is now holding her to a pledge of $1.8 million in her will to endow the museum director's chair; Meryl Rose, a member of the family that established the museum; and Jonathan Lee, chairman of the board of overseers whose mother was an early donor of art to the museum.

Donn Zaretsky observes that "for a suit that (as Paddy characterizes it) aims 'to halt closure of Brandeis University’s museum,' it's something of a problem that there is no plan to close the museum."

The legal briefs and other documents can be read on Scribd here. The Boston Globe has a snippet here, and The Boston Herald here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

More Museum Closings, Layoffs, and Cutbacks

USA Today on the escalating death of museums.

Ford Bell, president of the American Association for Museums, says the losses in three of the largest funding sources for museums is a "triple whammy." "Museum attendance is very, very strong, but unfortunately, attendance doesn't provide a big chunk of the income," he says. But despite the large number of volunteers and two $45,000 gifts from anonymous donors, the museum still had to cut back: It's now open five days a week instead of six.


The University of Wyoming's Geological Museum in Laramie faced a similar problem when the state cut funding to the university by 10%.


Though smaller institutions are being hit the hardest, even larger museums such as the Field Museum in Chicago are tightening belts. Nancy O'Shea, the museum's public relations director, says a declining endowment value led officials to trim staff and cut pay for all employees making more than $75,000.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is also cutting back. Its director, Thomas Campbell, says the museum cut 14% of its staff to cope with losses in its endowment and decreases in membership and corporate sponsors. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is also reducing staff and postponing or lengthening exhibitions after a 27% decline in its endowment.

And finally...

[I]n Detroit, Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Art, says the museum had to cut $3 million in operating costs and another $3 million by reducing staff because of a loss of state support.

Continue those anti-deaccessioning petitions!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Museum Association of NY: "Don't Sell Off Assets"

An interesting article from The Albany Times Union last week arguing in support of the Brodsky Bill. Ann Ackerson, the director of the Museum Association of New York, comes up with several "solutions" to the financial nightmares facing museums today. They're listed below with a bit of commentary on my part.

Among the solutions could be:

A revolving loan fund that strapped museums could tap into to buy time to restructure and figure out their next steps.

Really? And who's going to fund this "revolving loan fund"? How will these "loans" be secured, with museum assets? (read: the same artwork that is so preciously safeguarded?) Is this more Obama-esque socialism, creating a fund to be tapped by irresponsible and uninformed constituents?

A check-off box on the state personal income tax that gives residents the opportunity to make a contribution to an arts fund. (That legislation is pending.)

Great idea. Just what art needs: the continued belief that it is the public that must nurture and support flailing art institutions and irresponsible board management. Snarkiness aside, it's better than higher taxes on those with "disposable income."

Access to the state's health insurance program and aggregated energy purchasing to help lower two big chunks of operating costs.

Not bad, but stricter budget oversight may not hurt either. Let's look at travel expenses, installation fees, insurance, shipping and handling, and salaries as well.

Comprehensive board and leadership training.

Best idea on the list. What probably would save many art institutions money is stricter IRS oversight of needless spending and outrageous art project budgets. Not one for more government, there may be something to be said in mandating that all non-profit boards set aside financial resources for legal, administrative, and business training by experts, for-profit and non-profit alike. I like this one.

Let's also look at the state's current grant reimbursement system, which can keep nonprofits waiting months or years to receive project funding, forcing them to borrow funds and take on added debt.

I'm not sure there's a constitutional right to expedited treatment based solely on an entity being a nonprofit tax-exempt corporation. Shall we make flailing nonprofit museums and institutions a protected class too? The fourth factor above, or simple common sense, could remedy this mess: just don't spend what you don't have. Sound familiar?

Monday, July 20, 2009

CAA Circulates Anti-Deaccessioning Petition

From CAA's website, and also circulated via e-mail:

Petition to Support University Galleries and Museums
posted by Linda Downs

Several university art museums or their school administrations have recently sold, or have attempted to sell, artworks and objects in their collections to offset operating costs. In response to this, CAA has joined a task force supporting the educational importance of preserving collections at university museums and galleries. The task force—which includes representatives from the American Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries, and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation—has established a two-pronged effort: 1) to recognize museums as integral educational resources in the university accreditation process; and 2) to heighten public awareness of the educational value of art museum collections.

Members of the task force are meeting with accreditation organizations throughout the country to enlist their support for the recognition of art museums as integral educational resources.

A petition has been prepared that reaffirms the integrity and value of university and college museums.

Please show support for our efforts by adding your name and affiliation to this petition, which will be published in the Chronicle of Higher Education this fall. Please encourage your university, college, or museum to sign it as well.

Thank you for your support on this critical issue.

Paul B. Jaskot, President, and Linda Downs, Executive Director

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum: no right to the work and no standing in court (update)

Tennessee's Court of Appeals rejected claims this week from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum that it can challenge the sale by Fisk University of paintings donated to it by the late artist.

In the ruling filed Tuesday, the court said any right O'Keeffe had to most of the 101 works of art ended with her death. The financially struggling university had asked a lower court for permission to sell two of the works — O'Keeffe's 1927 oil painting "Radiator Building — Night, New York," and Marsden Hartley's "Painting No. 3."

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum objected to the plan, arguing that Fisk was violating the terms of the bequest, which required the works be displayed together, and asking for the artwork to be turned over to the estate.

Note: This entry was posted last week with the following headline, "Court Rules Fisk University Can't Sell O'Keefe Paintings," when it should have read "Court Rules Fisk University Can Sell O'Keefe Paintings." We regret any misinformation that may have ensued. Thank you.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

RISD: "Closing the Museum for the Month of August"

The Providence Journal reported today that regardless of its popularity and due to economic pressures, the Rhode Island School of Design museum will be closing for the month of August.

In May, for example, school officials announced plans to cut up to 30 staff positions, mainly by eliminating unfilled jobs and offering early-retirement incentives to older workers. At the same time, the union representing RISD’s full time faculty voted to accept a self-imposed wage freeze. The museum’s cost-cutting has been, if anything, even more dramatic.

According to Alswang, six museum employees opted for early retirement, while eight others were lost to “involuntary layoffs.” (Citing school privacy rules, Alswang declined to give names or job titles for either group, although at least one curatorial employee ... was among those laid off.) In addition, the museum hopes to save money by mounting fewer large exhibitions and by extending gallery displays of the museum’s permanent collection.

But it’s another cost-saving move — closing the museum for the month of August.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Chicago Weighs in on Deaccessioning Battle

This just in from Art Talk Chicago:

Before we get to the substantive content of the article, I do believe the best--and most common sensical--point of view on deaccessioning comes from one of the readers.

To fake it, to deny reality, is exactly how our country, our museums and my restaurant got into trouble in the first place. But trouble is an opportunity. What you do with the opportunity is art.

The article, by Dawoud Bey, begins:

"Art Institute of Chicago Lays Off 22 Employees," "Met Museum Lays Off 14% of Staff," "Detroit Institute Dismisses 56 Full-time and Seven Part-time Staff," "Spertus Cuts Its Hours to 2 1/2 Days A Month," "High Museum Lays Off 15 More Workers," and on and on it goes, across the country from one region to the next and from one institution to another. These are hard times for everyone and museums are no exception. Along with a growing string of layoffs museums across the country are also being forced to cancel or postpone exhibitions that have been on the drawing board in some cases for years.

Even with that gem of an introduction, Bey still finds the selling of art for administrative purposes to be "ethically and legally" dubious. We know this already, mostly from what Donn Zaretsky calls the "deaccessioning police." If mass layoffs, furloughs, cancelled and postponed exhibitions isn't enough, are we really waiting for the closing of an entire museum or art institution?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Price is (not) Right, and Warhol Foundation on OCMA Deaccessioning

The LA Times' Mike Boehm writes twice today on the OCMA deaccessioning. His articles are here and here.

In the first article, Boehm takes "a broader look at OCMA, including how, before the [Los Angeles] Times broke the news of its controversial sale of the 18 California Impressionist paintings to an unnamed collector, it had been getting its name around for all the right reasons, as an organizer of acclaimed touring exhibitions. "

In the second article (appearing later in the day), Boehm quotes "Joel Wachs, a former Los Angeles city councilman who heads the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York, [saying] he 'was appalled' by what he's read about its deaccessioning. The Warhol Foundation backed OCMA's recent exhibitions on Heilmann and Peter Saul with grants, but now 'we will have to reevaluate' whether to continue, Wachs said. 'It doesn't pass the smell test initially. I'll have to talk to Dennis' to hear his version, he said, 'but it's cause for alarm.'"

Director of the Albany Institute of History & Art on Deaccessioning

Christine Miles, no stranger to the deaccessioning wars, writes in the Albany Times Union, that the Brodsky Bill's "intentions are honorable, but it ignores the dire realities that museums face."

Our substantial collection includes one million items. Many of them have resided at the Albany Institute for centuries. All of them need to be indexed, insured and preserved in a state-of-the-art climate-controlled, secured facility. And that costs lots of money. Almost half of our roughly $2 million budget goes toward the care, maintenance and exhibition of our collections.

She attacks New York State's aggressive anti-deaccessioning stance by arguing that, "[i]f [New York's] legislature cared as much about the arts institutions that maintain the treasures it is trying to protect, perhaps it would have expended a similar amount of time and effort to ensure that they were properly funded."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Deaccessioning Via Private Sales and Auctioning

Last Thursday's Wall Street Journal contains another concise and lucid argument by Daniel Grant on deaccessioning. This time Grant delineates the pros and cons of private and public art sales by museums without the usual hysteria that accompanies the debate over deaccessioning.

In fact, Grant gives wonderful examples of situations where a museum may want to sell all of its collection to one private buyer (read Orange County Museum of Art), and others where the museum may be well advised to sell by fragmentation (read the Albright-Knox Art Gallery).

However, it is in the last two paragraphs were Grant finally takes a stand and proclaims that "[r]aising money and doing well by the art aren't mutually exclusive goals," and concluding that museum directors should do what's best for their institution by stating forcefully that "this is what I am going to do, this is what I am doing, and this is what I did."

Deaccessioning Globalized

The Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen writes about the UK's recent battles over deaccessioning. Along with pinpointing two key sides to this issue, he hits on the factor this blog has highlighted as crucial to expansion and understanding of this debate: public property.

Opponents insist that museums and public galleries don’t exist solely to display: they are also centres of scholarly research and repositories charged with the preservation and safe-keeping of anything that is of aesthetic or historical value. On the other hand, most galleries and museums are over-stocked with artifacts of no discernible value.

“Deaccessioning” sounds so enticingly simple at first, but one only has to think about it for two minutes to realise that it represents the thin end of a swiftly thickening wedge. It also raises the question of what ranks as public property.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Too Bad Brandeis and The Barnes Foundation Aren't in Texas

From yesterday's NY Times:

Texas has adopted a law intended to ensure that so-called orphan trusts, which are left under the stewardship of lawyers or banks after their founders have died, continue to comply with the founders’ wishes. The law, which was signed this month by Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, bars trustees from moving a trust or foundation out of Texas without court approval.

The law further directs the courts to determine whether moving a trust out of Texas would interfere with the trustee’s ability to comply with the donor’s intentions. The trustee must also notify the state attorney general’s office, which oversees charities, of any plans to move a trust out of Texas. State charity regulators, nonprofit leaders and others complain that with no family members to encourage compliance with the original donors’ wishes, banks and lawyers have wide latitude to change the way trusts operate and decide which charities will receive grants.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Let Museums Sell Art If They Must!

An editorial from Schenectady's Daily Gazette.

There’s no telling what the state Senate will do if and when it returns to action, but one thing it should not do is pass a bill that would interfere with art museums’ right to sell works in their collections to generate operating capital.

Seems like the tide is turning on the anti-deaccessionists. One has to wonder what dire financial circumstances museums are facing that would have them, and some of their media counterparts, arguing to let them do what is needed to survive this financial apocalypse. The editorial ends:

In the meantime, the state Board of Regents — which already regulates many of the museums — and the Association of Art Museum Directors effectively prohibit the practice. That’s enough. The state Legislature should stay out of the art business.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Robbing Peter to Pay Who?

Donn Zaretsky has a new article on deaccessioning (subtitled Deaccessioning rules have a strange interpretation of what constitutes the public interest) in the July/August edition of The Art Newspaper. He's willing to subsidize NY Assemblyman Brodsky's subscription to The Art Newspaper, and I'll gladly deliver it. Here's a snippet:

"In fact, however, the best of the LACMA works were bought by a London dealer, and all 18 Orange County works went to a single unnamed private collector. Similarly, most of the Montclair works are ending up in private hands, no longer part of the 'public trust.' Nevertheless, the AAMD ultimately blessed each of these transactions on the simple grounds that the resulting proceeds will be used for acquisitions (someday). From the AAMD’s perspective, it’s perfectly fine for a museum to raid its collection and sell work, just so long as the proceeds are put into an account labeled 'acquisitions'—even if the particular acquisitions have yet to be identified, and even if it just so happens, by happy coincidence, that having the money sit in that account helps satisfy the museum’s bond covenants. But selling the same work, for other valuable museum purposes (improving education, upgrading facilities, staying open more hours, reducing admission fees, saving jobs, etc), is never, ever, under any circumstances okay. Unless you define the public interest as 'keeping ever more art in storage at more museums' it’s hard to see how the public benefits from this state of affairs."

LACMA Sells a Few Old-Masters

From today's Art Newspaper:

A cache of paintings from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art boosted Sotheby’s 4 June sale of old master paintings, making $5.8m for 14 lots from the museum, nearly double the $2.9m pre-sale estimate.

London dealer Johnny Van Haeften bought the three top Los Angeles lots for gallery stock, including Pieter de Hooch’s A Woman Handing a Coin to a Serving Woman with a Child, about 1668-72, for $1.7m, Gerard ter Borch’s The Card Players, about 1659, for $1.6m and Jan Steen’s The Twelfth Night, no date, for $674,500—paying double pre-sale estimates.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Few More Voices on The NY Times Article

A few more links concerning the belated NY Times story on deaccessioning and New York museums, including CultureGrrl's usual basket of complaints. I'm not sure it really matters who broke the story first or who broke which embargo. What matters is the dissemination of correct information to the general public doused with a healthy contribution of rational argumentation concerning the important topic on the legal and ethical museum deaccessioning practices.

Here you go:

New York Press, Mad Museums

Artifactum, Museums Voice Opposition to New York's Anti-Deaccessioning Law ...

ArtsJournal (The Hungarian Times), NY Cultural Institutions Try To Delay Deaccessioning Bill ...

CultureGrrl, NY Times' Robin Pogrebin Breaks an Embargo in Error-Marred ...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NY Times on New York's Anti-Deaccessioning Bill

And we're back with the "public interest" requirement.

The NY Times finally covers the letter sent by more than a dozen major cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, to the NY State Legislature, trying to impact the drafting of an anti-deaccessioning bill. We covered this on June 3rd. Has anyone else noticed how the NY Times now covers news days, if not weeks, after the event? Regardless, not much news but more anti-deaccessioning media-control and pandering.

The Times quotes James C. Dawson, chairman of the Regents’ cultural education committee: “Cultural institutions hold artifacts in trust for the public ... and deacquisition should only take place under very narrowly prescribed circumstances. And selling collections for operating funds or for capital improvements is not in the public interest.”

Who is this "public" we keep hearing about, and more importantly, are they really protesting the sale of Warhols and Pollocks, Iran-style?

Friday, June 19, 2009

"all options will remain on the table until the bond is paid off."

It looks like The Long Beach Museum of Art may be next in the deaccessioning wars.

[F]acing a $3-million bond debt that is due in September, the museum is fighting to maintain its collection amid calls for a city takeover and the sale of some of its most valuable works of art. Selling museum artworks for any reason other than acquisition or care would violate the code of ethics established by the American Assn. of Museums. But with the city's budget deficit at about $20 million, Long Beach City Councilman Patrick O'Donnell said, "all options will remain on the table until the bond is paid off."

The museum, with an annual budget of $3.4 million, has been chronically deficit-ridden since the expansion doubled its space.

If this doesn't prove my point I don't know what will. Any institution that is "critically deficit-ridden" should undergo a radical evaluation and transformation, even if closure is the answer. It seems the city of Long Beach has it right, taking the museum out of incompetent hands and delivering it to private owners or managing it itself.

The city is already studying a variety of options, Foster said, including, "trusteeship, contracting management and operations, private ownership and the city taking outright control of the museum's assets."

The LA Times has the full story.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brodsky's Anti-Deaccessioning Letter to the Albany Times Union

NY Assemblyman Richard Brodsky writes a letter, published Thursday, June 18, 2009, entitled Protect Museums from Fiscal Woes, to the Albany Times Union. Here it is in its entirety below.

Recently there have been attempts in New York and elsewhere to monetize museum collections and to use that money for purposes other than the protection and expansion of collections. The Troy Public Library is an example ("Troy Public Library sculptures on auction block," June 9.)The economic downturn has increased the financial pressure on these cultural institutions. However, selling pieces of their collections is inconsistent with accepted practice.Without a law, the financial pressure and the bean counters will endanger collections that took centuries to acquire, many of which were donated by people who may not have intended to have their gifts sold. Unless these rules are codified, the integrity and existence of collections handed to us by earlier generations will be endangered.Libraries and museums aren't private businesses. They are the custodians of our common cultural and historical heritage and have always been publicly supported, be it by tax preferences or direct cash. Collections aren't assets, to be tapped when things get genuinely difficult. If you sell sculptures to keep the doors open, soon you'll have open doors and no sculptures.We have worked with the Board of Regents and the Museum Association of New York to craft legislation (A.6959) that incorporates the long-standing policies of most museums that are necessary to protect our cultural heritage in a time of economic stress. We urge you to join us in support.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky
92nd Assembly District

Guggenheim to Cut 25 Positions

From yesterday's NY Times:

The foundation that runs the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum said on Tuesday that despite record attendance, it will cut 25 positions, or 8 percent of the institution’s full-time staff. The cuts, which will involve both laying off employees and leaving positions vacant, will be made across all departments, including curators.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another Anti-Brandeis Lament

Dartmouth College has just announced that it has received a $50 million gift.

Real Clear Arts' Judith H. Dobrzynski writes today on this donation. As is customary in these anti-deaccessioning days, Dobrzynski takes an(other) emotional reaction to this gift, and contrasts it, unfairly and irrationally, to Brandeis University's Rose Museum decision.

What a contrast from Brandeis, in Waltham, MA, which has grown infamous for its announcement earlier this year that it planned to shut its Rose Art Museum.

A quick overview of her position clearly shows that this comparison and contrast is quite unfair. It would be like applauding the New York Yankees for their revenue earnings and chastising the Pittsburgh Pirates for their lack of one. The fact that a donor with ties to Dartmouth has gifted $50 million to it does not logically establish that Brandeis has not raised $50 million.

Encouraging others to join her in singing Kumbaya, Dobrzynski ends her lament with this liberal gem: "Anyone for transferring from Brandeis?" If only we could transfer, excuse me, deaccession, bloggers from the blogosphere!

The Dartmouth press release is here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Interview: On Deaccessioning with Richard Brodsky

An Art in America interview with New York Democratic assemblyman Richard Brodsky. In part, Brodsky's argument for his bill limiting and restricting museum deaccessioning practices goes like this:

I think there's greater and greater pressure from the bears counters on the integrity of collections. If we don't do this, there will be institutions that cannibalize their collections in order to stay open, and you'll end up with paintings being sold to keep the doors open, and eventually institutions with open doors and no paintings.

That's interesting if not completely absurd. I suppose Mr. Brodsky would rather have paintings sitting in open air and beneath falling rain due to a forced eviction. I'm not sure what the romantic and mystical attachment to the idea that arworks are not market commodities. Perhaps a lengthier and in-depth look into this is in order.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Video: NY Senator Serrano and Experts Discuss Museum Deaccession

On May 6th, 2009, José M. Serrano (Senator and Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Chair) and invited professionals in the field discussed Museum Deaccession at a meeting in the Capitol.

Features Statements From:

• Senators Serrano and Squadron
• Assemblymen Brodsky and Titone
• Anne Ackerson, Executive Director of the Museum Association of NY
• David Palmquist,Director of Chartering Office, New York State Museum
• Michael Botwinick, Director of the Hudson River Museum
• Steven Kern, Director of the Everson Museum

View the 52-minute video here.

Silent Knight

Mike Boehm and art critic Christopher Knight have written an extensive "report" on what they call a "silent deaccessioning." Uploaded on last night's Los Angeles Times website, Boehm and Knight write that:

The Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach has quietly sold 18 of its 20 California Impressionist paintings to an undisclosed private collector, sparking criticism from two local museum directors who say the secrecy violated the public interest by preventing them from bidding to keep the works in collections open to the public.

Adding that the sale:

...doesn’t wash with Bolton Colburn, director of the Laguna Art Museum, and Jean Stern, director of the Irvine Museum. Both say that if they’d known the California Impressionists were for sale, they would have sought donors to bankroll bids.

According to Boehm and Knight, The L.A. Times learned of the sale after a reader’s tip on their arts blog, Culture Monster.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Brandeis Decision: "A Four in the Morning Kind of Idea"

Today, ArtTactic posted an interview with the chair of The Rose Art Museum's Board of Directors, Jonathan Lee, available via podcast.

Lee describes the origianal decision by Brandeis University President to close The Rose and deaccession its art collection a "four in the morning kind of idea." Along with this tasty treat, Lee believes that even though dire economic situations "come and go," public policy dictates that cultural assets should not be turned into cash.

When asked if there are any situations in which selling of artworks by a museum are warranted, Lee retreats into a familiar emotional response lacking any substantive rationale. "It's not allowed in the museum world" and "it goes against the ethics of the art museum world," and "as soon as they sell one of these paintings and scoop the cash they will be shuned" pretty much sum up his reasoning (and this coming from a lawyer).

In a moment of sweet irony, The New York Times reported today that Brandeis University "said this week that it would suspend payments to the retirement accounts of faculty and staff members starting in July."

While universities across the country have taken a wide range of actions to confront their financial problems, including layoffs and the suspension of capital projects, freezing contributions to retirement accounts is rare. Financially troubled corporations have been taking such action, but faculty and staff members at colleges and universities have traditionally enjoyed stable, and generous, benefits — and expect no less.

Well, perhaps no retirement account, but at least the faculty and staff will have an art collection!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

23 More Reasons to Deaccession

Via The Art Law Blog, Culture Monster reports on more cancelled and postponed shows.

Among the biggest art-world cancellations are the world tour of works by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles and some U.S. appearances of a retrospective of Arshile Gorky. Both shows were scheduled to appear at LACMA and have since been cut.

Los Angeles

LACMA: "Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan," August 2009

Getty Center: "Franz Messerschmidt," September 2009 (postponed)

MOCA: "Morphosis," 2009-10

LACMA: "Cildo Meireles," November 2009

MOCA: "Form and Photo: Intersections Between Sculpture and Photography," 2009-10

MOCA: "Luisa Lambri: Being There," 2009-10

MOCA: "MOCA Focus: Drew Heitzler," 2009-10

LACMA: "Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective," June 2010

Other museum cancellations (source: the Art Newspaper)

Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, "Jean-Léon Gérôme," February 2010

Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, “Subversion of the Images: Surrealism and Photography," spring 2010

Chicago: Field Museum, "Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia," 2009-10

Denver: Denver Art Museum, "Imperial Mughal Albums From the Chester Beatty Library," July 2009

Honolulu: Contemporary Art Museum, "Japan Fantastic," Dec. 2009

Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, "Cildo Meireles," June 2009

Kansas City: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, "Rafael Lozano-Hemmer," February 2009

London: Tate Britain, "Johann Zoffany," 2010

Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, "Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design," February 2010

New York: Brooklyn Museum of Art, "Donald Saff and the Art of Collaboration," September 2010

New York: Metropolitan Museum, "Duncan Phyfe: America’s Legendary Cabinetmaker," Janusary 2010, postponed

Paris: Centre Pompidou, "Indian Contemporary Art," 2010, postponed

Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, "The Kingdom of Aragon," 2010, postponed

Reykjavík: National Gallery of Iceland, "Off the Beaten Track: Violence, Women and Art," September 2009

Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, "Cildo Meireles," March 2010Vienna: Albertina, "Jörg Immendorff," October 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Impact of Personal Tastes on Collecting and Deaccessioning

From The Attic, self-described as the virtual home of the Department of Museum Studies' research students, University of Leicester, UK.

Normally the task of museum is to collect, research, educate and preserve objects of the past. But due to storage space, changing preferences of curators or the condition of a object sometimes museums will find itself in a position where deaccessioning is necessary.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Recycle LACMA

Robert Fontenot forwards us his art project, Recycle LACMA, concerning deaccessioned items, their history, and their unknown future trajectory.

On January 14th, 2009 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced that it was deaccessioning more than 100 items from its costumes and textiles collection. Once carefully collected, catalogued, and cared for, these items have now been cast back out in to the world. What will happen to them? Like any other useless item, they will need to be recycled or disposed of. Recycle LACMA is a project of Los Angeles-based artist Robert Fontenot. At three separate auctions he purchased over 50 items deaccessioned by LACMA and is now trying to find new uses for these otherwise unwanted items.Although each item has not yet been used, each item can have a use.


Friday, June 5, 2009

NY Deaccessioning Bill Pulled From Committee (for now)

Mary Minow of the Library Law Blog brings us pro-deaccessionists good news. She believes that due to the "concern expressed by museums, zoos, and libraries, the bill governing deaccessioning from museums was pulled from the Ways and Means committee's calendar on Tuesday." However, she does add the bad news that an amended version of the "well-meaning but problematic" bill is circulating in Albany.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Smaller Art Shows, Fewer Parties, No More Biscuits

Here are at least three other reasons why anti-deaccessionists are wrong.

LA’s struggling Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) announced on May 19 that it
was laying off Brooke Hodge, its curator of architecture and design, and
cancelling its long-awaited Morphosis exhibition, among other moves to help
balance its budget.
As part of a restructuring “needed to create a sustainable operation,” the
museum has reduced its staff size by 17 positions, including 12 full time and
two part time jobs. Along with a round of layoffs earlier in the year, MOCA has
now let go of 40 staff members in 2009.
More from the Architect's Newspaper here.

In other news, Christopher West, curator of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art for the past five years, has been let go by the organization, while the museum’s cofounder, Jeremy Efroymson, has returned to the helm of the museum. More from the Indianapolis Star here.

Lastly, according to New York Magazine, "[t]he recession is taking a toll on the Met: to cut costs, the Fifth Avenue museum is going to start playing host to some smaller art shows — and fewer parties. 'The economy has totally changed, and we’re not immune,' says new director Thomas Campbell."

Cutbacks have been everywhere at the museum, Campbell adds. On top of the previously announced job cuts and closures of some Met-museum gift shops around the country, there have been catering cutbacks: "We no longer serve biscuits to the trustees."


New York Museums Urge Deferral on Brodsky Bill

This letter, written on June 1, 2009, to Assemblymember Richard Brodsky and Senator Jose Serrano, urges deferral on any legislative action pertaining to the proposed "Brodsky Bill" affecting New York State arts institutions and organizations. It also urges them to consider the negative consequential effects of this bill. The letter is signed by numerous institutions and organizations, among them the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

National Gallery of Art Deaccessions Painting

The National Gallery of Art has made out like bandits in a recent deaccession stemming from a legal dispute. More from Clancco.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guggenheim Director Pro-Deaccessioning

Arts and culture blog, Real Clear Acts, has a very interesting interview between Maxwell Anderson and Guggenheim Director Richard Armstrong, which incidentally, and self-interestedly, supports my position (and that of Donn Zaretsky), that limiting deaccessioning and peppering it with punitive measures will only close and bankrupt arts museums and institutions.

Armstrong contends:
People have to be practical. They have to be pragmatic. They have to stop being righteous. They have to stop being proud of the fact that the museum died, but the collection is intact. That's where we're headed, I'm afraid, in a number of provincial places.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

NY's Committee on Art Law Opines on Brodsky Bill

The New York State Assembly is considering a bill, A6959, which will "create rules for deaccessioning of items in a museum'scollection and ... regulate the use of funds from disposed items."

A summary of the bill:
  • Legally defines what have been 'working' terms for museum collectionsand collection management policies.
  • Requires each museum to adopt and publish a binding collection manage-ment policy and mission statement.
  • Each museum shall accession all items in its possession that areconsistent with its mission statement and collection management policy.
  • Items may only be deaccessioned if certain criteria have been met;either that the item is inconsistent with the mission of the museum, theitem has failed to retain its identity, the item is redundant, theitem's preservation and conservations needs are beyond the capacity ofthe museum to provide, or the deaccession of the item refines thecollection per its collection management policy.
  • Any museum disposing of an item must make a 'good faith effort' tosell or transfer the item to another New York State museum.
  • Proceeds from the disposal of deaccessioned items may be used for theacquisition of another item for the museum's collection, and/or for thepreservation and protection of an item in the collection, proceeds maynever be used for customary operating expenses.
  • The Board of Regents will have the authority to enforce the provisionsof this law.
  • Additionally, the board of regents is authorized to study and reportto the Governor whether or not museums should include buildings in theircollection.
A full version of the "Brodsky bill" can be read here. For background information on this bill, read Art Info's "New Bill Seeks to Make Deaccessioning Illegal in New York."

The New York City Bar's Committee on Art Law has written a three-page letter (pdf version) to NY State Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky asking for some clarifications to the bill as well as some suggestions as to its applicability. The letter also asks for two practical clarifications: "What would be the time-line for compliance with the proposed legislation? And what would be the penalty for non-compliance?"

In The News

The Star-Ledger's Kelly Heyboer writes on deaccessioning during tough economic times. Her article, When times get tough, should museums sell their art?: Bloggers on 'deaccessioning,' cites us as well as some other notable voices on deaccessioning, including Donn Zaretsky and NY State Senator Jose Serrano.

The Deaccessioning Blog is also quoted in a recent student note by Kristina Gordon of John Marshall Law School, entitled, "Where Is My Monet? Museums and Donors Lose An Important Incentive for Fractional Giving." (Thanks to Donn for the heads-up.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Behold, the Man!

A reader e-mailed me last week (when I was in gorgeous Barcelona) and asked why I didn't update this blog more often. He pointed out, rightly, that there was much writing going on relating to deaccessioning. I agree. So why the slothness?

Well, for starters, although there is quite a bit of writing on deaccessioning it certainly isn't good, much less rigorous. Put a chimpanzee in front of a laptop and in due time he, or she (for the politically correct), will type the words "deaccessioning," "wrong," "bad," and if we're lucky, and feed him, or her, enough bananas we may even get "in the public trust." Like much (critical) art writing these days, the writing on deaccessioning is heavy on the cream and light on the caffeine.

So, take it as my philanthropic duty to not pass on meaningless diatribe on why art is so precious and why art is not a business; on why art belongs to a community and why it shouldn't be treated as an asset or commodity. In due time these folk will enter the age of enlightenment, perhaps not due in part to their own rational capacities, but rather due to the economic forces that some of us have come to accept as devastating and unprecedented.

Until then, I will point you to the man who I believe plays with a full deck of cards and isn't missing a single screw. His name is Donn Zaretsky, from the Art Law Blog, and his new, precise, and RATIONAL argument (not against deaccessioning, but rather for an expanded application of it) can now be read in the recent issue of Art in America.

Enjoy, and stop asking for crumbs. I'll post when the pie is ready!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

NY State to Regulate Deaccessioning

Yesterday's NY Times reported on a pending New York state bill which would make selling parts of a collection to cover museum operating costs illegal. The bill, drafted by Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky in collaboration with the New York State Board of Regents and the Museum Association of New York, "would prohibit museums from using proceeds from the sale of artworks 'for traditional and customary operating expenses."

Under the bill, proceeds from a sale could be used only for the acquisition of additional artworks for the museum's collection or "the preservation, protection or care" of works in the collection. And, it says, "No item in a museum's collection may be used as collateral or may be capitalized."
The legislation also delineates criteria under which an artwork could be deaccessioned: if it is inconsistent with the museum's mission as set forth in its mission statement, if it has "failed to retain its identity" because of decay or other deterioration, if it is redundant or inauthentic, or if it is being repatriated or returned to its rightful owner or donor.

Donn Zaretsky has his usual extremely interesting counterpoints here, such as this one:
A "sacred cultural and ethical trust" -- unless, of course, a museum wants to acquire some shiny new artworks, in which case: hey, knock yourself out! Sacred shmacred. Sell to your heart's content!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Met Opera Offers Chagalls as Loan Collateral

Not quite a deaccessioning, but...

The Metropolitan Opera indicated today that it has put up two massive Marc Chagall murals as collateral on a loan.

According to Met spokesman Peter Clark, the murals will serve as collateral for "a longstanding loan," though he declined to specify the loan amount or the estimated value of the works. Some reports have appraised the two murals at about $20 million US in total.

More from the CBC here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Las Vegas Art Museum Out of Options

After three months of trying to keep the 59-year-old institution afloat in the dire economy, board members and staff said Friday they have run out of options.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yes, More Brandeis...

I've pretty much left the Brandeis stuff alone, as it seems to have settled down a bit. However, there are two interesting articles that came out today. One is regarding the negative effects the economic crisis is having on nonprofits, and the other on what would happen if Brandeis University sold some of its top art works.

The first article is in the Wall Street Journal, and unfortunately one must be a online subscriber to access it. The other is in the recent New York Magazine. A bit from both articles.

[L]aws passed decades ago to keep charitable gifts from disappearing too rapidly have suddenly started hamstringing institutions from the Audubon Society to Brandeis University, which are taking a beating from the recession and the collapse in stock prices. The laws restrict spending from endowment funds, which invest heavily in stocks and other assets that have taken a hit amid the financial turmoil.

Gift-spending restrictions on nonprofits were enacted across the country in the 1970s. State legislators passed a raft of rules that let charities -- which traditionally favored bonds -- put their savings in stocks and other growth-oriented investments. But a key proviso protected an institution's long-term health: An endowment couldn't spend a dime if a gift fund fell below its initial dollar value. Endowments are generally made up of major gifts, each with restrictions of how they can be spent.

Brandeis University’s decision to close its Rose Art Museum might be more than a curatorial transgression. It might also be a bad business move—and not just for the university.

Some of the art world’s biggest players could be affected. An investment group that includes Larry Gagosian bought a slew of rare paintings at the top of the market last spring from the Ileana Sonnabend estate. Her Andy Warhols and other key works were among the last of their kind in private hands. Now Brandeis threatens to sell “superb and extraordinary” works from the same period, says art appraiser Victor Wiener, and some dealers and collectors may find “you still have a great work of art, but it’s not the greatest—and you may have paid too much for it.” The record for a Warhol is $71.7 million, set two years ago for his Green Car Crash painting. Brandeis has its own very good car-crash painting titled, appropriately enough, Saturday Disaster.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Brandeis Re-Depressed

The Nonprofit Law Prof Blog has more good reasons on why Brandeis opted to close the Rose.

Brandeis relies heavily on current donations - $14 million of its operating budget comes from current donations - and those donations are nearly nonexistent this year.


Because the endowment is relatively new, nearly all the appreciation over the historic dollar value of the endowment is gone. Under Massachusett's version of UMIFA, Brandeis can spend little from its endowment until the market rebounds. In addition to these problems, Brandeis has overextended itself in recent years, increasing its debt with building projects and more financial aid for students.

The People of Iowa Re-Revisited

The University of Iowa Museum is re-revisiting their desire to deaccession (and it is a deaccession this time) its Jackson Pollock. I'll refer you to Donn's Art Law Blog, where he rightly questions all this "the people of Iowa" banter. I say all these anti-deaccessionists should gather in front of the White House, hold hands and sing kumbaya!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Brandeis Donors Vow to Fight Sale of Artwork

The Nonprofit Law Blog reports that Brandeis Donors, incensed at the fire-sale, are vowing to fight the sale of the Rose Art Museum's artworks.

The January 28, 2009, issues of the Chronicle of Higher Education and The Boston Globe report that upset Brandeis University donors are looking at ways to stop the university's planned sale of artwork to cover university losses as a result of the economic downturn and the Bernard Madoff scandal. Here is an excerpt from the CHE article:

The decision has raised complicated legal questions over donor intent and the university’s use of money given to the museum and of the donated artwork, especially restricted donations that require the art to be publicly shown.

“Had I had any idea when I donated work that there was a chance they would be sold to benefit the university, I never would have donated them,” Jonathan Novak, a museum overseer and Brandeis graduate who has donated money and art to the museum, told the newspaper.

On a related note, Donn Zaretsky has almost convinced me that the deaccessioning police caused the Rose Art Museum's fire-sale. I'm laying low on this one. Too many chefs in a very small kitchen. My only prediction, based on a deaccession model, is that Brandeis will be worse off if they heed the threats of these so-called "donors."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CAA Denounces Brandeis' Fire Sale, and Specters of "Deaccession"

The College Art Association has just sent out an e-blast denouncing Brandeis University's decision to close The Rose Art Museum and sell its entire collection in order to raise funds to be used for general operating expenses. Although the CAA letter does not mention the word "deaccessioning" once, it does directly cite the AAMD's Code of Ethics, which "clearly state that works of art in museum collections are held as a public trust and that any proceeds of sales must only support the acquisition of new works."

The College Art Association (CAA) was shocked and dismayed to learn of the decision by Brandeis University to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its entire art collection for operating revenue.

CAA supports the Codes of Ethics of the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors, which clearly state that works of art in museum collections are held as a public trust and that any proceeds of sales must only support the acquisition of new works. However, perceiving an entire art collection as a disposable financial asset and then dismantling that collection wholesale to cover other university expenses is deeply troubling for all college and university collections.

The AAMD has a report from November of 2007 where they state:

The process of adding objects to a museum collection is known as acquisition. The counterpart of acquisition is deaccessioning, the practice by which an art museum formally transfers its ownership of an object to another institution or individual by sale, exchange, or grant, or disposes of an object if its physical condition is so poor that it has no aesthetic or academic value.

Deaccessioning is practiced to refine and enhance the quality, use, and character of an institution’s holdings. There are two fundamental principles that are always observed whenever an AAMD member art museum deaccessions an object:

The decision to deaccession is made solely to improve the quality, scope, and appropriateness of the collection, and to support the mission and long-term goals of the museum;

Proceeds from a deaccessioned work are used only to acquire other works of art—the proceeds are never used as operating funds, to build a general endowment, or for any other expenses. Funds from deaccessioning can be invested in an acquisitions endowment earmarked to support the long-term growth of a museum’s collection.

Now, I understand Donn's argument that this is not a "deaccession" in its proper sense, and although both Carol Vogel and Randy Kennedy do not site that word in their lengthy NY Times article once, I will attempt a somewhat humorous argument.

Vogel and Kennedy do cite Fisk University and Randolph College as two examples where "smaller colleges and univesities" have drawn controversy over similar attempts to sell-off some of its art works. I believe most bloggers writing on deaccessioning, including my good friend Donn, have clearly indicated these two situations as "deaccessioning." Thus, it is quite clear that Vogel and Kennedy's decision to omit the word "deaccession" is but a timid gestural magic trick meant to imply deaccession without actually taking on the responsibility of calling the Brandeis act what it is: a deaccession. The house is haunted, and the specter of deaccession looms large.

An example. If an individual (say, an ex-con) sells a kilo of cocaine from a streetcorner, and this individual is convicted of trafficking in narcotics (possession with intent for example), it would be quite logical to label this individual a "drug dealer." However, if the same individual selling a kilo of cocaine were not an ex-con but rather, say, a Wall Street CEO, I do not (logically) believe we would then call this second individual a "seller of goods." That the AAMD defines deaccession in a narrow sense, limited to art institutions, is simply that, the AAMD's definition.

Let me make myself clear. I am not arguing here for or against the (im)propriety of Brandeis University's decision to close The Rose Art Museum or its decision to sell off all of the artwork in order to raise operating funds. I am simply arguing that the Brandeis case is not one of semantics. The larger and more important issue trifurcates into one of ethics, law, and economics.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lee Rosenbaum on AAMD's New President

Culturegrrls Lee Rosenbaum has a lengthy profile on the AAMD's new president, Michael Conforti in today's Wall Street Journal. In this profile, Conforti gives his direct and unabridged views on the National Academy Museum's deaccessioning.

When he discovered that the academy had proceeded with the sale, ignoring his efforts to persuade its officials to address their financial predicament through other means, Mr. Conforti was angry. "I think we had, in this situation, an organization that was determined to sell and that sold before there was a public discussion," he said tensely. He revealed that he, along with AAMD's then executive director, had held a meeting prior to the sale with Carmine Branagan, the academy's then interim director (now director), and an academy trustee. He offered AAMD's help in exploring other strategies for financial recovery.

More on the Brandeis Liquidation Sale

This morning Donn Zaretsky blogged about the different takes on the Brandeis fire-sale. He further argues that the fire-sale should not be seen through the deaccessioning prism at all, but rather:

I'm actually not sure it makes sense to view this through the "deaccessioning" prism at all. Isn't it more that the university has decided to get out of the business of running a museum altogether? If the National Academy, after embracing furious fundraising and failing, were to declare bankruptcy and close its doors, would that be properly viewed as a "deaccessioning" worthy of condemnation? In fact, I wonder if the taboo against selling individual pieces might not have contributed, in some small way, to Brandeis's decision to close the museum? If they could have sold five or ten of the most valuable works without controversy, might the trustees have reached a different conclusion?

In fact, a quick Google search shows us they did deaccession a few pieces back in the early 90's. Artinfo had a nice take on the previous Brandeis fire-sale here back in June of 2008. A brief quote:

[T]he Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University was lambasted in 1991 for auctioning at Christie’s 11 paintings by artists such as Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Vuillard and using the $3.65 million in proceeds in part for conservation and to advance the museum’s “educational role.” Critics complained that the Rose had set a terrible precedent by converting a portion of
its collection into cash—“selling one of your children to feed the others,” according to the director of another museum.

Not to mention The Rose Museum's expensive addition earlier this decade.

Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum (architect Shigeru Ban) all have commissioned star architects to make major design changes.

I'm not sure I quite agree with my friend Donn's "this is not deaccessioning" argument. Even though it is not the museum that is deaccessioning, isn't an institution (in this case Brandeis University) selling off it's art assets to continue being in business?

Perhaps a deeper investigation into the directorial discipline will reveal a lax board of trustees. But to the extent of a fire-sale?


Monday, January 26, 2009

Brandeis University to Deaccession Entire Museum

Well, maybe not the actual Rose Art Museum, but pretty close. Both the NY Times and the Boston Globe reported today that after years of financial deficits, Brandeis trustees took a play from our playbook and unanimously decided to close its museum's doors, sell off its art collection, and focus on educating tomorrow's youth.

President Jehuda Reinharz said tonight. “The Rose is a jewel. But for the most part it’s a hidden jewel. It does not have great foot traffic and most of the great works we have, we are just not able to exhibit. We felt that, at this point given the recession and the financial crisis, we had no choice.”
The Rose Art Museum, founded in 1961, holds more than 8,000 pieces. It is best known for its collection of modern art, including works by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein.

Friday, January 16, 2009


In my previous post concerning deaccessioning I stated that Donn Zaretsky's position was "pro deaccessioning." I wrote this under the assumption that a keen reader would have kept up with Donn's position well enough to know his exact position regarding the AAMD's "silly" rule regarding deaccessioning as well as his exceptions and detailing of this rule. In Donn's own words:

I wouldn't describe my position as "pro-deaccessioning" any more than you would describe someone who accepts the practice of deaccessioning-to-acquire-more-art as "pro-deaccessioning." The position I've been taking is that the AAMD's black-and-white rule is silly, and that the reasons traditionally given in support of the rule don't stand up to much scrutiny (in part because they fail to explain the disparate treatment of sales to buy more art -- which are considered fine -- and sales to fund other worthwhile things -- which are not).

I hope this clarifies my previous post.

Monday, January 12, 2009

LACMA to Deaccession Cranach

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has entered Lucas Cranach the Elder's Portrait of a Bearded Young Man (1518) in Sotheby's Jan. 29 Old Masters sale in New York. Sotheby's has listed the painting with a note that it is being "sold by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to benefit future acquisitions." Sotheby's has estimated the painting at $600,000-800,000.

More from Modern Art Notes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Deaccessioning Wars: To Be or Not To Be...

Although there's been quite a bit of sparring in the deaccessioning colosseum lately, we've lagged behind a bit. Here's our attempt at playing catch-up.

The most recent action on the subject is revolving around the New York's National Academy Museum's decision to deaccession two paintings from its collection for $15 million in order to continue with its general operations. Quite a few voices have risen in response to the Academy's decision, with most attacking the Academy's decision to deaccession. The main maginot line of defense comes from The Art Law Blog's Donn Zaretsky, and to some extent from the Time's Richard Lacayo, UCLA's Mark Kleiman, and's Felix Salmon. The attacks against deaccessioning-as-fundraising come primarily from Tyler Green (the power of his comments, however, are unfortunately tainted by some childish comments and personal attacks) and CultureGrrl's Lee Rosenbaum.

The New York Times had a lengthy article on this mess this past December, and NPR threw in its two pesos here.

For solid pro-deaccessioning reasons, a must-read is Donn's Art Law Blog. In fact, the Art Market Monitor applauds Zaretsky's position, giving Zaretsky an easy 10-run lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth (and with Carlos Beltran batting!):

Donn Zaretsky, author of the ArtLawBlog, is the unsung hero of the deaccessioning wars–the ongoing debate launched by the National Academy’s sale of two paintings recently. Zaretsky is consistently the most interesting voice in this debate because he applies unrelenting logic to a lot of emotional positions.

In all honesty, we've been converted to Donn's side ("DZ position"), but we would like to try and reconcile it (somewhat) with Tyler Green's position (sans personal attacks). A few thoughts are in order that surprisingly (at least to our understanding) have been, to this date, omitted.

1. Sanctity of Art Museums & Institutions: Tyler Green makes a valid argument regarding the necessary self-destruction and demise of an art institution if it fails to establish, adhere to and enforce its own rules, regulations and budgets. In brief, what I question here is the sanctity of art museums and art institutions. What makes them so valuable and precious that they should be immune from dissolution or bankruptcy proceedings? From a strictly artistic perspective, I wonder why art and its institutions should be privileged over other institutions, be they for-profit or non-profit. Why should donors or the tax-paying public be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of an institution that for some reason has failed to exist on its own two feet? If this sounds like a non-profit version of a bailout, it probably is. Is there anything (really) wrong with allowing a tax-exempt art institution to close, and thus channeling its assets (ex: artworks) to other 501(c)(3) institutions or to the state under which it is incorporated. Are we really saying that access to a Pollock, Miro or Warhol is more valuable than production of Hummers or Chrysler LeBarons? I really don't think so, and I don't really see why a donor or the general public should have to allow for one or two deaccessions simply to allow an already failing and flailing institution to survive and thus continue to waste more private and public monies. In a nutshell, I would rather experience a Warhol in Iowa than in a mismanaged Los Angeles museum, whatever the cost to the California public (see #4 below).

2. Fiduciary and Legal Duties: Reason #1 leads to Reason #2. Nonprofit corporations are not privately owned, rather they are public entities controlled by a board of directors. These board members have fiduciary and legal duties to act in the best interest of the art institution. If the the board fails to live up to its fiduciary and legal duties , I believe the correct result should be that this institution is penalized, dissolved, or have its tax-exempt status revoked. I have indentified at least three tests (which i refer to as the three policing variables) to police and measure the board and the nonprofit institution's perfomance and "right" to continue as originally constituted--as a publically subsidied, tax-exempt organization.

When the fiduciary and legal duties are not met (see LA MoCA), there should (in a perfect world) be at least three policing variables which should (a) penalize the institution for its malfeasence, (b) initiate legal action against the board of directors, (c) revoke that institution's tax-exempt status, and/or (d) cease to provide that institution with donations, gifts, in-kind donations, or grants. The three policing variables are: (1) governmental (state and federal); (2) board of directors; (3) the general public.

In effect, any of the four "penalties" placed on the institution would be warranted, primarily because any board in charge of a million-dollar budget should be well-advised of any and all legal and ethical repercussions should it breach any of its fiduciary or legal duties. Selling a Warhol or Pollock would make sense if there was no foreseeable business risk, but tanking millions of dollars in a seemingly ignorant and careless manner does not warrant the deaccessioning of art for the sake of keeping a life-line on a dying institution. (Note: This is also called the band-aid on a bullet-hole theory.)

3. Conditions & Restrictions: So as to not seem heartless, there could be a "one-time exception" to Rules #1 and #2 above, so long as certain strict conditions and restrictions are met as a pre-condition. These could range from public disclosure on a bi-monthly basis of all insitutional expenditures, to a complete firing and replacement of that institution's board of directors. The revamping of that institution's staff, employees and volunteers would also be a welcome condition (with salaries and benefits comensurate with that institution's financial ability to meet them), as well as restrictions on the amount of money that could be spent by the museum on art installations, shipping & handling, insurance, as well as artist and guest lecturer honorariums and stipends. Of course, these restrictions and conditions could be limited to a number of years, so long as the museum passes muster each and every year with flying colors!

4. Public Oversight: Nonprofit tax-exempt institutions have a duty to disclose their certificates of incorporation, by-laws, tax-exempt ruling, and tax forms to the public. There's no reason why the general public should not take obtain this information and educate itself on the operations of a failing institution. This would facilitate notification by the general public of any perceived wrongdoing by the institution to the state attorney general, the charities bureau, as well as the IRS. The "right" of the citizenry to view and experience a Warhol, Miro or Pollock is not without a certain duty to review and inspect a nonprofit tax-exempt art institution's internal operations. Make the public responsible for its museums and institutions and I can gurantee that the board of directors will pay a bit more attention to its operations and decisions.