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.


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