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.