Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Deaccessioning and Small Towns

The "paper of record" ran a story today on deaccessioning, and what one feisty individual did to show her dislike of deaccessioned artifacts.

Deaccessioning is the kind of word that makes eyes glaze over and can seem to be the preserve of dusty intellectuals and large museums. But it’s just a fancy name for the sale or giving away of art and artifacts by museums and other cultural organizations, and the dust-up here in this city of about 5,000 demonstrates that such debates occur in all kinds of places, big and small, where people feel protective about materials in their care.

Story here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Deaccessioning and Disposal of Objects from UK Museums: Seminar at the National Gallery, London

The seminar will be held on Tuesday 10 May 2011, and will address the deaccessioning of objects from public collections, changing attitudes to deaccession, and possible reform of existing procedures.

The proceedings will be chaired by Dr Stephen Deuchar CBE, Director of the Art Fund. The confirmed speakers are, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries; Sir Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust; Dr Johann Kräftner, Director, Director of the Collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, Vaduz – Vienna, Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna; Dr Nick Merriman, Director of the Manchester Museum and Convenor of the Museums Association\\\'s Ethics Committee; Dr Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery; Dr Timothy Potts, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum; and Gary Tinterow, Engelhard Chairman, Nineteenth-Century, Modern & Contemporary Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

More info here.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Deaccessioning Casestudy: "But You Promised..."

The latest issue from American Archivist contains an interesting case-study, “But You Promised: A Case Study of Deaccessioning at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming,” which discusses the reappraisal and deaccessioning work done at the AHC over the last decade.

According to the AHC, the article describes a systematic, step-by-step process for responsible and ethical deaccessioning. From legal issues to donor relations, the case study provides a practical method for other repositories wishing to do something about collections that fall outside their collecting scope. You can access the case study here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beaverbrook Foundation to Auction 48 Art Works It Gained Title to In Legal Battle

Britain’s Beaverbrook Foundation is consigning the 48 art works it was given title to in September at the conclusion of a lengthy and expensive legal battle to Sotheby’s auctioneers in New York and London.

Sotheby’s confirmed Friday that it would sell the works at a series of auctions set for December this year and January 2010. The 48 pieces were among the 133 that the foundation and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, N.B., fought over for more than six years.

Via The Globe and Mail.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Not Deaccessioning By Any Stretch

Here's another sign as to how strict (and emotional) anti-deaccessionist rules only foster creative ways as to how museums sell art from their collection for fund-raising purposes.

The "new" way? The city of Denver may sell four Still paintings to fund a major operations endowment to ensure the Clifford Still Museum's long-term viability. Isn't this move prohibited by the AAMD and anti-deaccessionists?

Clyfford Still Museum director Dean Sobel believes the established AAMD anti-deaccessioning guidelines do not apply to it. Why? According to The Denver Post, it's a technicality.

The privately funded museum, which is set to open late next year, has not yet officially taken possession of the pieces. They were bequeathed to the city of Denver when Still's widow, Patricia, died in 2005. The museum petitioned a Maryland county court on Nov. 3 to permit the estate of Patricia Still, which has yet to be distributed, to release the four works early — before the formal transfer of ownership occurs.

[T]he museum believes the good outweighs any bad. The money would create a major endowment that would assure the museum's long-term financial viability. It would cover not only exhibition costs and general expenses but also publications, research and symposia that would ensure it a key place in American art scholarship.

According to Sobel, the four Still paintings are to be sold as a group, and only to another museum. The rest of the story, and a great Q&A regarding possible outcomes is available via The Denver Post here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chicago Art Magazine on Deaccessioning

Chicago Art Magazine continues their analysis on deaccessioning. Here's the second part of their series.

We previously discussed the basics of the accessioning and deaccesioning processes art museums go through in dealing with their collections, but what about the specifics? A delicate process such as deaccessioning certainly raises a few questions including issues of transparency, maintaining the public trust, and the debate as to whether the current guidelines are enough to keep museum art collections from becoming mere commodities.

My Thoughts on Deaccessioning Via WNYC

It's been super busy, so apologies for the belated post.

Marlon Bishop, of WNYC, interviewed me on Tuesday, October 19, for a story on deaccessioning. The radio version came out on Wednesday, October 20, but you can read Bishop’s article, Art Deaccessioning: Right or Wrong?, on WNYC’s website, as well as hear a few soundbites from me; Kaywin Feldman, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director of the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts; and anti-deaccessionist, Lee Rosenbaum.

I will elaborate more on deaccessioning here and on my other blog, Clancco, soon. What do you think? Deaccession or not? Is there a middle ground?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

National Academy and AAMD Friends Again

After nearly two years of museum-world ostracism because it sold two prized 19th century American landscape paintings for about $15 million to relieve a financial crisis, Manhattan’s venerable National Academy Museum & School is being accepted back into the The Assn. of Art Museum Directors.

Why the ostracism? The general public and media consensus: "Keeping art for the public's enjoyment and study is the reason for having tax-exempt art museums in the first place, and failing to do that in the case of the Church and Gifford paintings is what brought down sanctions on the National Academy."

Via the LA Times.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good Riddance!

The New York State Board of Regents on Tuesday approved the expiration of emergency regulations prohibiting museums from selling art to cover operating costs.

Last month the board indicated it planned to make the emergency regulations permanent, in part because a bill to prohibit cultural institutions from selling pieces from their collections to pay for expenses had stalled in the Legislature.

Via The NY Times.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finally, Some Deaccessioning Thunder!

After a long deaccessioning silence, we have two great articles from the WSJ and the NY Times.

The WSJ reported today that the "Chelsea museum could face the loss of its charter or referral to the state attorney general's office following disclosure that its entire permanent collection of artwork was pledged as collateral for a loan needed to pay its mortgage."

Bad news for the Chelsea Museum, but good news for other art museums and art institutions. The NY Times reports that the dreaded Brodsky Bill and legislation making the deaccessioning process illegal is pretty much dead.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, José M. Serrano, said he withdrew support after hearing feedback from cultural institutions. “We all saw that a one-size-fits-all approach was not going to work,” he said. “I didn’t think that we would be able to make wholesale changes to the bill that would make it palatable for everyone.”

Good news indeed!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rosenquist: Viola and Fischl’s Protest Vacuous

Bill Viola, April Gornik and Eric Fischl have pulled out of the show Atmospheric Conditions at the Rose Art Museum until Brandeis administrators sign an agreement not to sell art from the collection.

As for the postponement of the show, Brandeis spokesperson Andrew Gully notes, “I don’t think it says anything about the museum; I think it speaks to the artists who decided not to come,’’ he said. “We clearly have a great show in the fall coming.’’

The Rose is replacing the Atmospheric Conditions exhibition with one by James Rosenquist, who sees the three-artist pull-out as negative and knee-jerk. “I’m having a show there that will put a spotlight on the museum, and maybe they won’t sell anything. I’d rather do that than be negative and pull out and let it dry up,” said Rosenquist. More from the Boston Globe here.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Detroit Institute of Arts Prepares to Deaccession Little Bighorn Flag

Detroit Institute of Arts has revived the talk with news that they're planning to auction off a flag that was at General Custer's Little Bighorn battle. Held by the museum since 1895, it's believed that the flag could fetch somewhere between $2 million to $5 million when it goes on the block sometime this fall at Sotheby's. The flag was originally purchased for $54.

Via The Detroit Free Press.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Art as Philanthropy

Art collectors are starting to donate their art work for philanthropy again. Via Forbes.com


Monday, May 31, 2010

Rose Art Museum to "Netflix" Artwork

Brandeis administrators are currently in talks with international auction house Sotheby's to explore methods of garnering revenue from the Rose Art Museum that do not include the sale of artwork, according to a May 27 University press release.

The press release explains that these talks are in the formative stages and that "President [Jehuda] Reinharz said it is premature to say what kind of agreements might be negotiated, what the time frame may be, what parties might be interested, what art might be included or how much revenue any agreement might generate."

Via the Brandeis Justice.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Seattle Art Museum to Close for 2 Weeks Due to Budget Concerns

Speaking of museum closings, the Seattle Art Museum announced yesterday it is closing its three principal buildings for two weeks next year, reducing its staff and instituting a two-week furlough in an effort to balance its budget.

Via The Seattle Times.

Magnes Museum to Give Away Its Entire Collection of Prized Jewish Art

Better than deaccessioning? The Magnes, a Berkeley, Calif., museum, founded in 1962, doesn't have enough money to maintain the 10,000-piece collection, so it will turn the trove over to an unlikely rescuer: the University of California-Berkeley, part of California's public university system, which has experienced its own budget shortfall of $1 billion this past year.

Shelly Banjo of the WSJ explores this story as well as other art institutions that are struggling to stay afloat during these trying economic times.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Michael Kaiser: Conventional Wisdoms I Fight Against

The Kennedy Center's Michael Kaiser was recently asked the following question:

Is there conventional wisdom amongst arts organizations that [you] disagree with and try to fight against?

His detailed answers here.

How to Donate to a For-Profit

How does a for-profit museum use a tax-exempt foundation to get donations? NY's Museum of Sex does it, through its own foundation. Via today's NY Times.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Museums and Salaries

Via Donn Zaretsky:

The real issue with nonprofit compensation, I believe, lies not at the executive, but at the mid-management level, and at the lowest rungs of arts organizations.

Michael Kaiser: "Over the last year I have noticed a change in the reactions by major donors"

During this recession, however, funders have taken a harder tone. "When there are well run organizations that are struggling to replace donors who have evaporated, why support those that have poor management, weak boards, and unrealistic plans and budgets," the funding community seems to be suggesting.

More, via the deteriorating Huffington Post.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Charitable Gifts and Art Museum Deaccessioning

Erica Guyer, an associate at Withers LLP, has published an article on charitable gifts in relation to art museum deaccessioning practices.

Recent press regarding deaccessioning has raised some concerns among donors that their past or contemplated future donations could be sold by the donee institution. These concerns should not discourage charitable gifting, but should instead encourage donors to articulate their intentions with donee institutions and in clearly drafted gift agreements and testamentary instruments.

On the subject of the pending Brodsky Bill, Guyer adds, "a one-size- fits-all regulation undermines the diverse circumstances affecting cultural institutions considering deaccessioning." Guyer's entire article, Charitable Gifts in a Climate of Deaccessioning, can be viewed here via Martindale-Hubbell.com.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Museum Cutbacks and Maintenance Costs

Facing harsh economic realities--and a declining endowment--the Art Institute of Chicago has begun closing two of its galleries for one to two hours a day in order to make ends meet. On a similar note, The Washington Post ran an interesting article:

Whether in good times or bad, the hardest money for any arts organization to raise is for upkeep -- leaking roofs, outdated heating and air-conditioning systems, more efficient lightning.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Maxwell Anderson: Deaccessioning Without Putting Your Mission up for Sale

Maxwell Anderson, the Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, writes on Art:21 Blog on the state of deaccessioning today:

Disobedience in the act of deaccessioning today is as rampant as it was with regard to the 18th-century example of the Dodo—except that the untoward behavior of our time is not in service of preserving and protecting collections, but in service of monetizing them.

FYI: This is part of Art:21's "Should Art Be Ethical?" series.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Isabel Abislaiman on The Brodsky Bill

The New York County Lawyers' Association has just published an article by one of its members, Isabel Abislaiman, on the current state of deaccessioning in New York and the Brodsky Bill. Thanks to Ms. Abislaiman for citing this blog and Clancco: Art & Law.

There has been much tension about the controversial bill since its introduction in March 2009. Albany still needs time to grasp the complexities of the New York art world. The legislature can accomplish its goal of keeping the cultural heritage available to the public by handling this regulatory measure in the ordinary course of business instead of rushing it through the legislative process. So let the meetings and roundtables continue before the bill is signed into law.

Ms. Abislaiman is the principal of Abislaiman Law Offices in San Juan and New York City. Her areas of practice include litigation, art law, estates and real estate. She co-chairs NYCLA’s Art Committee and is a member of the Fine Art Board of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.

Into the Void: Museum Exhibitions, Auctions, and Deaccessioning

Last Thursday's New York Times has an interesting article by Fred Bernstein on the current exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum concerning donated artworks and fund raising.

Museum auctions are nothing new — many institutions sell pieces donated by artists or collectors to raise money for programs. But the Guggenheim has taken things a step further, mounting a major exhibition with the intention of selling its contents.

I'm quoted in the article, and there's a bit on the relationship between this exhibition and deaccessioning.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Paper: On Deaccessioning for Operating Expenses

Jonathan Lee Rohner, a candidate in the Master of Arts in the Faculty of Teachers College, Columbia University, has just published a paper on deaccessioning. The paper, Profiting from Paintings and Paying the Price: The Implications of Increased Deaccessioning for General Operating Expenses in U.S. Art Museums, is available for download here. I haven't had time to read it yet, but look forward to analyzing its argument. An abstract is just below.

This essay explores the implications of an increase in deaccessioning by U.S. art museums to pay for general expenses. This type of activity has increased over the past year, exacerbated by the economic recession of 2008-2009. A brief history of U.S. museums is provided, as well as a description of these institutions’ current operating environments. The benefits of deaccessioning and considerations that must be taken into account are also described. Case studies are provided, as are recommendations as to how the U.S. art museum community can avoid the damages of general expense deaccessioning, while remaining flexible enough to allow struggling museums to operate in a difficult financial climate.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Article: Deaccessioning on a Stricter Trust Standard of Care

A Clancco.com reader just sent me this link to this article in Art, Antiquities, and Law on deaccessioning. Here's the SSN abstract:

Art deaccessions prompt lawsuits against museums, and some commentators advocate using the stricter trust standard of care, instead of the prevailing corporate standard (business judgment rule), to evaluate the conduct of non-profit museum boards. This Article explores the consequences of adopting the trust standard by applying it to previously unavailable deaccession policies of prominent art museums. It finds that so long as museum boards adhere to these policies, their decisions would satisfy the trust standard. This outcome illustrates an important limitation of fiduciary law: the trust standard evaluates procedural care but cannot assess deaccessions on their merits. Yet this limitation, far from undercutting the trust rule, balances judicial review with protecting boards’ management discretion. This article ventures beyond formalist analysis of fiduciary duty and examines the non-legal, substantive rules governing art deaccessions. It argues that complemented by non-legal rules, the trust standard provides the best framework for adjudicating deaccession lawsuits because it ensures judicial scrutiny of deaccession procedures while leaving appraisal of deaccessions’ merits to museum professionals and the public they serve.

You may download the full article here. I haven't read it yet, as I'm headed out to enjoy this rare NY winter day. More on it later.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ansel Adams' Son Sues Fresno Museum for Prints

Remember when the Fresno Art Museum announced that it was shutting its door for good, and holding a garage sale to cover its creditors' claims? Well, we have the first litigation regarding this sale.

Ansel Adams' son sued the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, seeking return of six of his father's iconic works, including three shots of Yosemite Valley. Adams's son says that when he learned the museum was liquidating its collection, he asked it, through counsel, to return the prints. The museum responded, through its counsel, "that it believes the plaintiff's gifts of the Adams Prints was absolute and unconditional," and that "The Met believes that it may sell the Adams Prints to satisfy its creditors' claims."

Via Courthouse News Service.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The New Britain Museum of American Art feels that deaccessioning works from the permanent collection is not such a bad thing.

Don't get too excited. The New Britain Museum still holds to the "deaccession only to buy other artworks" theory. But they have weighed in.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brandeis Faces Faculty and Program Cuts

More recession devastation.

A Brandeis University committee has recommended cutting more than 20 faculty positions and dropping some academic programs in response to financial pressures caused by the economic downturn. Dean of arts and sciences Adam Jaffe tells The Boston Globe that the proposed cuts, which the provost is expected to review in coming weeks, would be carried out over a number of years and eventually save $3.8 million annually.

The cuts include the elimination of the graduate program in theater design. More from the Mass AP News.


Friday, February 19, 2010

State Urged to Investigate Fresno Art Museum

A local attorney is asking the state Attorney General's Office to investigate whether it is proper for the Fresno Metropolitan Museum to sell off its collection to satisfy its debts. Fresno attorney Robert Rosati's action comes as the museum is scheduled to auction its non-art property today, with proceeds going toward the $4 million in debt that led in part to the museum's demise last month. Rosati claims that The Met, in being granted nonprofit status, agreed that its assets were public and would be used for public purposes. If the museum ever dissolved, Rosati contends, its assets should continue to be used for a public purpose.

More from the Fresno Bee here.


Is the Fresno Art Museum -- the only modern art museum between San Francisco and Los Angeles also on the brink?

Fresno's Art Museum: the Museum is faced with making some very difficult decisions about the next season of exhibitions and educational programs. We've "tightened our belts" and already made some critical decisions and adjustments but we're still in a very vulnerable position.

Judith Dobrzynski has more on this. If it does close, I think that makes it three closed since I pronounced 10 museums would close. I may just hit my mark by the end of this year.

Michael Kaiser: My Peers Are Angry With Me

Kaiser writes about frustrated nonprofits. In full disclosure, I'm a mentor with the Kennedy Center's Arts in Crisis program, and truth be told, I have not had much problem convincing nonprofits I speak with to increase programming and marketing. Here are some of Kaiser's thoughts:

Many arts managers are angry with me. They do not appreciate my advice not to cut programming during this recession. I continue to say that creating large, important projects is central to creating fiscal health. Especially when there is less money for the arts (and there is less money for the arts today), arts organizations must compete harder. As donors decide which organizations to continue to support, the institutions that are doing vital, important work are the ones who will continue to be supported. Not only must the work be interesting but the marketing of that work and of the institution as a whole must be aggressive and creative.

One arts leader accused me publicly of living in a parallel universe. He was quite upset that his artistic director and his unionized artists threw my advice in his face when he felt he had to make programming cuts. He was dealing with a substantial budget shortfall and saw no other recourse than to cut programming. He was not amused that his artists kept saying, "Michael Kaiser says this, Michael Kaiser says that."

The rest of his thoughts are at The Huffington Post.


Monday, February 1, 2010

More Deaccessioning Thoughts from Dobrzynski

Judith H. Dobrzynski shares "a few more impressions, based on developments and discussions since [the] publication of her op-ed in The New York Times on Jan. 2.

It's sad, but true, that several people on both sides of the issue told me that I was "brave" to propose something at odds with the official AAMD/AAM position. It was as if I had voluntarily touched the Third Rail of the museum world.

This sentiment was borne out at the Brodsky bill roundtable: People are afraid to discuss the very possibility. There was almost no dissent (except for objections to an unfunded mandate) until, at 1 p.m., two hours after the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports convened the roundtable, Brodsky satisfyingly looked around and said it was the last chance for people who differed with him to speak up. Only then did people rise to the mike to disagree or question the bill, and only then did the rumbles in the audience begin.

More troubling still, one thing I've learned since Jan. 2 is precisely how little trust exists in the museum world. Directors don't trust their trustees; trustees don't trust one another; many trustees don't trust their directors. I knew there was some amount of mistrust -- but I didn't know relations were this bad.

Museum directors -- even some you think are strong -- fear their trustees, finding it hard to disagree with the powerful ones, ever. (I know, I know, trustees provide the money, and directors work for the board, but absolute obeisance is unhealthy.)

While it's no secret that trustees join boards because they contribute money or art, too many trustees have little interest in art -- maybe none. If they're there only for the prestige and the power, I blame the nominating committee and the board chairman.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another Assemblyman Aims to Make Deaccessioning Illegal

Staten Island Assemblyman Matthew J. Titone aims to insure that cultural institutions do not sell off some assets to stay open and afloat. Deaccessioning to keep the doors open and the lights on will soon be illegal in New York State, if a new bill co-sponsored by Assemblyman Matthew J. Titone (D-North Shore) gets passed. Titone hosted a round-table discussion this month with 80 curators and administrators from all over the state. Some, like Historic Richmond Town, already have in-house regulations that protect collections. Others don’t. “We must always ensure that the public and future generations enjoy the enormous resources of our great state’s cultural and historic institutions,” says Titone. “This law will help protect that heritage.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

London's ICA Could Close by May

London's ICA staff members have been told that a financial deficit currently at around £600,000 ($967,000) might rise to £1.2m ($1.9 million) and if radical steps are not taken the ICA could be closed by May. According to the ICA director, without a wholesale restructuring, the ICA could be the first major British cultural organisation to fall victim to the recession. Via The Guardian.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When Will the AAMD Get Their Massachusetts?

We saw last night in Massachusetts what happens when those in power don't listen. The AAMD met recently and changed nothing regarding their stance on deaccessioning. As jobs and exhibitions continue to plunge off museum cliffs due to the recession, is the AAMD deaf and blind to the obvious? Is this the AAMD mirroring Obama, focusing on wrong issues at the wrong time? Donn Zaretsky calls this meeting "breaking news." Via Artinfo.

The hot topic at this year's mid-winter meeting of the Association of Art Museum Directors in Sarasota, Fla., attended by more than 125 museum heads from 35 states and three countries, was the same as last year's: deaccessioning. The association's Deaccessioning Task Force has concluded that “works cannot be deaccessioned to provide funds for operating or capital purposes, and such funds may only be used for the refinement and expansion of the collection.”


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Salvador Dali Museum May Be Forced to Use Art as Collateral?

The new $36 million Salvador Dali museum under construction in Tampa, FL is scheduled to open in January 2011. All but $6 million has been raised from federal, state, city and private funding. But money for the project will run out this spring without a new source of funds. The museum will be forced to take out loans using art from the Dali collection as collateral if the tax dollars or new contributions don't come through soon. Via St. Petersburg Times.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Chief Executive of Getty Trust Against Deaccessioning

Today's NY Times includes a letter to the editor from James N. Wood, president and chief executive of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Wood respectfully takes issue with Dobrzynski and raises some important--and frequently unmentioned--consequences to deaccessioning.

To raise substantial amounts of income, you must sell good, and thereby potentially important, works of art. The smaller the amount raised by sales of works of art, the more this solution becomes stopgap. If a long-term solution is to be achieved, not only must substantial amounts be raised, but also the money must be put into an endowment with an annual spendable rate that preserves the principal.

The unintended consequences could well include a change in the board’s perception of its fiduciary responsibility to one more focused on asset management than philanthropy. Human nature has shown us that if there is an accepted alternative to giving one’s own money, many, if not all, will seize it. And potential and past donors of works of art will be uncertain as to the future use of their gifts.

While I agree with Wood, I'm not so sure that these valid considerations would not be within the mindset of deaccessioning arbitrators. Remember that Dobrzynski was keen in asking that the arbitrators have not only artistic and legal expertise, but nonprofit governance expertise as well. Surely in better economic times deaccessioning arbitrators would not allow, much less facilitate, the fire-sale of Warhols and Picassos simply because board members failed to "give or get."

Wood's full letter here.

Interesting thoughts nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Am I Right? Or Am I Right?

Drowning in debt, the Fresno Metropolitan Museum is closing today, indefinitely.

The exhibits and assets inside the building will all be auctioned off to pay back creditors... sold at auctions in big cities, like San Francisco and New York, [hoping] the pieces will earn 50–to–60 cents on the dollar, on the auction block. The remaining Met employees have until the end of this month to clear out the building.

One down, 9 to go.

Monday, January 4, 2010

10 Museums to Close, Massive Layoffs Await

That's the headline we'll have to read before the strict anti-deaccessionists agree that selling art in order to save museums, jobs, educational programming, and public exposure to art is a necessary requirement.

The Battle Over Dobrzynsk Bridge has begun. You can read about it here, here, and here. Christopher Knight twitters his distate here.

I wonder if the strict and pure anti-deaccessioninsts would feel the same way if it was their job on the line or, heaven forbid, their one-person exhibition that was being cancelled. I'm not going to say much more than that, but rather wait on the sidelines and watch these participants fool themselves into thinking they're playing US Open tennis instead of ping pong.

Dobrzynski: "de-accessioning shouldn't be impossible-- just nearly so"

In case you missed Judith Dobrzynski's NY Times op-ed on Jan. 1st, here's her recap, with a few additional pointers, on her Real Clear Arts blog. I'm still on board with the "arbitrator" theory, but not sure about the two-strike proposal (what she calls "two chances"). She explains that perhaps strict anti-deaccessionists are "maturing," since she received nothing but positive feedback.

I want to add a very important note here, and albeit seemingly a bit self-serving, but I can assure the reader that it's not. My experience as an artist, lawyer, and nonprofit lawyer has given me ample encounters with lawyers who are also artists. The age-old negative stereotype of the white-shoe culture-starved lawyer is slowly disappearing. Not only do I meet quite a few lawyers who are musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists, but more so, I myself mentor quite a few artists wishing to enter law school with the sole purpose of becoming art lawyers. I would like to think that we can find at least one of these in New York City.

Here's a bit from her blog entry:

My solution is this: museums that propose to sell art from their storerooms for purposes other than buying art should submit their cases to an independent arbitrator. And if they make a convincing case, they must also give other public collections two chances to buy the art -- once, in a right of first refusal; a second time, after a public auction, when they all have an opportunity to match the winning public bid.

But maybe we are maturing: I expected to be flooded with complaints about violating sacred principles. Instead, all of the feedback I've received has been positive. One friend made a great addition to my solution, which proposed using neutral parties familiar with art, art law and nonprofit regulation. To her, that spelled lawyers, and she suggested that retired, disinterested museum professionals could also arbitrate.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dobrzynski on Deaccessioning: A Great Solution, an Impartial Arbitrator

[I posted this on Clancco.com, but in order to facilitate access to readers of this blog I've also posted it here.]

Judith H. Dobrzynski, a former reporter and editor at the NY Times, wrote yesterday on a very interesting alternative to the deaccessioning fight. In brief, she argues for an "impartial arbitrator," which would hear a museum's argument and need for deaccessioning art to pay the bills.

Maybe it’s best to amend the unwritten sales ban, but not end it. What if a museum had to argue its case for de-accessioning art before an impartial arbitrator? This neutral party would need to be schooled in art, art law and nonprofit regulations. [bold mine]

If done properly, this is actually the best solution put on the table so far, and to my delight (and self-serving position) something not too far from what I have argued here.

THE squeeze is on. Museums everywhere are having trouble making ends meet, what with the overblown expansions they’ve made, the decline in investment income and the steep drop-off in contributions from foundations and individuals. Many have cut staff, frozen pay, trimmed exhibition schedules and slowed or stopped acquisitions. For some, that may not be enough: the American Folk Art Museum, to cite one example, recently admitted that it isn’t making debt payments.

Dobrzynski seems to be reigniting, in an academic and open town-hall-meeting of sorts, the deaccessioning debate started in early 2009 over the Rose Art Museum, and being the first in 2010 to realize that the museum economic disasters are intensifying and not-at-all decreasing. She sites others on her corner with similar thoughts.

What’s next? In some corners, there’s fear that museum officials will do what is absolutely forbidden by art-world rules: raise operating cash with a sale of artwork. Already some respected figures — David Gordon, former head of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, for example — are saying that the rule against selling art for any purpose other than buying more art is wrong.

What do you think? Deaccessioning Arbitration and Regulation Panel (DARP)? That's my vote! Good start for 2010. Judith's article in its entirety here.