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, 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.