Saturday, December 10, 2011

Appeals Court Approves Fisk University's Sale of O'Keeffe Collection

The Wall Street Journal reports that a state appeals court has affirmed a lower state court's decision to permit the partial sale by Fisk University of the art colleciton donated to it by Georgia O'Keefe and also concluded that the lower court lacked authority to require Fisk to set aside two-thirds of the sales proceeds, or $20 million, as an endowment to maintain the collection.

Via The Nonprofit Blog.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Museum's Deaccession to Pay for Renovations

Here's one that's going to upset quite a few anti-deaccessionists.

The Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery on the campus of Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., is scheduled to sell its sole work by Marsden Hartley, one of the leading American modernist painters of the 20th century.

Curator Ron Michael said the gallery fell $700,000 short on its recent capital campaign to fund much needed renovations and hopes to raise that amount and more by selling Hartley’s “Untitled (Still life)” (1919) at an auction Thursday at Sotheby’s in New York.
Via the Kansas City Star


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

History for Sale?

The Southern Oregon Historical Society is selling off items from its vast collection, raising more than $155,000 and surprising some of its most ardent supporters.

Via The Mail Tribune

Museum of Modern Art to Sell Tamayo Painting

Rufino Tamayo's "Watermelon Slices" is being sold by New York's Museum of Modern Art to raise money for its acquisition fund. It will be auctioned on Nov. 16 in Sotheby's Latin American art fall sale.

Via Yahoo!News and Reuters.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pearl S. Buck Foundation to Sell Two Edward Redfield Paintings

According to, The Pearl S. Buck Foundation plans to sell two paintings that belonged to the author so it can pay for restorations to her historic home.

"It may not be a popular decision in the eyes of some people," said Janet Mintzer, president and CEO of Pearl S. Buck International. "But it was such a carefully considered decision. . . . It's a sacrifice for the better good of the house."


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Does Deaccessioning Help Update a Museum's Identity?

Judith Dobrzynski on the National Academy Museum's deaccessioning dilemma, their identity crisis, and their persona non grata status.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Essay: Deaccessioning: A Policy Perspective

Chris Burgess and Rachel Shane have just published Deaccessioning: A Policy Perspective, via The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society. The essay is available for purchase here. Here's the abstract:
The concept of removing artwork from a museum's collection (deaccessioning) has been the topic of much discussion and debate over the last several years. However, the conversation has mostly focused on the ethics of deaccessioning. Notably, the primary professional associations governing museums position their policies on deaccessioning within their ethical standards. Yet little has been studied on the history and motivation of the development of such policy. Through the tracing of deaccessioning history and public debates, this research examines the practice of deaccessioning from a policy perspective. Through the examination of the actions at national, state, local, and institutional levels, this study considers the history and future of deaccessioning policy.


Friday, July 15, 2011

UK's Bolton Council to Deaccession Picassos

The UK's Bolton Council is deaccessioning 35 works from its public collection to fund the building of a new museum storage warehouse. The council believes that the need for the upgraded facility falls under the Museums Association's definition of "exceptional circumstances," the only time public bodies are allowed to sell work from their collection.

The council's other works to be auctioned off include an etching and a lithograph by Pablo Picasso.

Via the BBC.

Friday, July 1, 2011

To What Exactly Did Brandeis University Agree to?

Apparently, nothing.

Remember the big fiasco concerning Brandeis University’s possible fire sale of the Rose Art Museum’s collection? Well, the Chronicle of Higher Education has published the following news.

Brandeis University announced on Thursday that it would not sell any part of its prized collection of modern art at its Rose Art Museum, ending a long-simmering dispute that had cast a negative light on the Massachusetts institution.

However, Donn Zaretsky takes issue with this statement as well as headlines from the Boston Globe, LA Times, and The Art Newspaper.

That isn’t quite right. What the settlement agreement says (you can read it here; see the last sentence of paragraph 1) is that Brandeis “has no aim, plan, design, strategy or intention to sell any artwork.” There’s a big difference between saying that and saying they promise not to sell any artwork.

Glad someone’s doing some content checking.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

NY Board of Regents Rules Narrower Than Brodsky Bill

There is real risk in writing an article for a hard-copy publication on a topic in which things are in flux. Something new, and even dispositive, can happen between when one submits the piece for publication and when the printed journal actually appears. It must be another corollary to Murphy's Law.
More from The Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New York Board of Regents Adopts New Deaccessioning Rules

Ironically, I was editing a piece on deaccessioning as the news of this decision was released. Here we go!

On Tuesday, May 17th, The New York Board of Regents approved new rules for deaccessioning artworks. The new rules apply to museums and historical societies charted by the Board of Regents, and go into effect on June 8, 2011.

The amendment specifies that at least one of ten specific criteria be met when museums deaccession a work. Among the criteria are proving that an item is inconsistent with the museum's mission, that it is redundant in the institution's collection or that a work is stolen or inauthentic. [bold on text added]

Among the more perplexing of criteria is the requirement that the art "item has failed to retain its identity." What exactly does this mean? That it was once a painting but it is now a frisbee? Or does it mean that the work is not authentic? If so, given the numerous lawsuits concerning authenticity issues I can certainly imagine a museum deaccessioning a work that has been deemed no longer an authentic, say, Picasso, only to find out later that it is in fact a Picasso.

The amendment also requires museums to set aside deaccessioning funds in a separate collections account to be used only for acquiring new works and for preserving existing pieces. Institutions that deaccession must also submit an annual list to the board containing all of its deaccessioned works.

The 11-page amendment can be accessed here. What do you think?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The real tragedy is that people who have grown up with these works will now be deprived of them.

The UK's Bolton Council will press ahead with the sale of 36 works. Some don't like it (here and here).

These works will be offered at Bonhams over the next few months. The list includes:
  • Gaspard Dughet Classical Landscape
  • Richard Ansdell Buzzard and Ptarmigan
  • William Powell Frith A Dream of the Future
  • 18th Century French School The Finding of Oedipus
  • Arthur Ambrose McEvoy Madame Errasuriz
  • Walter Richard Sickert Pauline de Talleyrand-Perigord
  • Philip Wilson Steer The Falls at Aysgarth
  • John Everett Millais The Somnambulis
  • George Romney King Lear
  • Edward Burne-Jones Danae and the Brazen Tower
  • Charles Ginner English Landscape


Monday, March 28, 2011

Court: Clifford Still Museum Can Deaccession Paintings

A circuit court in Maryland has ruled that Denver can sell four of the 825 paintings destined for its new Clyfford Still Museum, which is slated to open this year. ...The court ruled the money must be set aside for an endowment and collection-related expenses.
Via The Denver Post. Background on this case here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In England: To Sell or Not to Sell

Several cash-strapped local authorities are selling parts of their art collections to raise funds. Two valuable Picasso etchings are among almost 40 works of art being put up for auction by Bolton council, while in Tenterden in Kent [England], paintings are being sold to pay for new heating in the town hall.
The Guardian interviews art critic Brian Sewell and Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar concerning deaccessioning policies and debates in England.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Let Them Sell Art: Why a Broader Deaccession Policy Today Could Save Museums Tomorrow

Jorja Cirigliana, USC Law School student and avid reader of this blog, just gave me a heads up on her recent law review article, "Let Them Sell Art: Why a Broader Deaccession Policy Today Could Save Museums Tomorrow." Haven't had time to read it yet, but from the looks of the abstract it seems Cirigliana takes a liberal approach to deaccessioning. Oh, and The Deaccessioning Blog is cited in the paper. Enjoy! Here's the abstract.
Deaccessioning has become a widely implemented process that museums use to (1) remove a qualified object from the museum’s collection record and (2) dispose of the object through sale, auction, gift, trade, or destruction. Despite wide implementation, there is currently a deaccessioning “crisis” that has instigated public outcry and even legislative reform. The crisis stems from the recent financial crisis, which has deeply affected museums. Museums are being forced to choose between making huge cut backs – even permanent closure – and deaccessioning portions of collections at the risk of lawsuits and condemnation.

Museums should not have to choose. Instead, museums should be able to implement broader deaccession policies that would allow them to deaccession objects based on financial necessity and allow them to apply deaccession proceeds to operating costs.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Google, The Death of the Deaccessioning Wars

Note the time and day. You read it here first my friends. History in the making.

I have pinpointed the death of the anti-deaccessionist ideology, and it's one we're all familiar with. What is it, you ask?


Yes, you heard right. There will come a day (hopefully quite soon), when the debate over deaccessioning will go the way of the eight-track and Milli Vanilli. Remember, the key to the deaccessioning debate is the "public" access (read: trust) to venerable artworks. What will little Johnny and little Suzie do if Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors is sold off by the National Gallery to pay the electric bill? Well, this won't matter if little Johnny and Suzie have access to it via digital format (and later on, holographic format). The key is access, experiencing, viewing, seeing, being exposed to, right?

Well, just this week, Google launched its interactive Art Project. Here's an overview of the Art Project via the Wall Street Journal,

A collaboration with 17 museums including three in New York—the Frick Collection, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—the portal offers virtual access to the institutions, allowing visitors to navigate galleries and pore over hundreds of their works of art in fine detail. ...Art Project also includes 17 works—one from each museum—that can be explored on a near-microscopic level, via "gigapixel" photo-capturing mechanisms whose images contain up to 14 billion pixels.

I know the counter-argument to my thesis quite well (unfortunately), and that's the one drenched with the good ol' magical aura (see Walter Benjamin). Here's a snippet from Benjamin's Illuminations,
By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand it manages to assure us of an immense field of action. ...Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. (Walter Benjamin, Illuminations)
There are of course some challenges, copyright being one of them, but nothing that cannot be overcome with simple licensing. More thoughts on this soon.

What separates an everyday object from an art object?

The Boston Globe has an interesting story on an artist that "deaccessions" her personal (and emotion-filled) objects as part of an artwork. Call the anti-deaccessioning police!

Take an installation like “Deaccession Project,’’ the vast wall of more than 2,000 inkjet prints copied from photographs Welty keeps in scrapbooks. The photographs show items that Welty has discarded — one per day, systematically, since Oct. 5, 2005 — with a brief note at the bottom of each explaining the decision, and the item’s intended destination (“Trash,’’ for instance; or “Goodwill’’).

“Deaccessioning’’ is the museum term for the removal of objects from a permanent collection, so the title might trigger the kinds of questions raised elsewhere in Welty’s work: What separates an everyday object from an art object? Are our homes like museums? What do we hoard; what do we no longer have uses for; why?

I really like this. "What separates an everyday object from an art object?" This is the crux of my argument pro deaccessioning. If we get rid of the aura (Benjamin and all), then we get rid of this romantic notion of the museum, art, and the "public trust." One day.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Former Penn Academy Pres: Relax Deaccessioning Rules

Donn Zaretsky takes a fine-tooth comb to Gresham Riley's article on why deaccessioning rules should be relaxed in this day and age.
"But," he says, "the existing policy is in fact an exercise in smoke and mirrors, providing neither guarantees of public access nor commitments to maintain possession." On the one hand, "because of limited exhibition space, most museums’ collections are consigned to storage." In addition, the current rules "don’t prohibit a museum from selling ...; they merely limit the use of proceeds from the artwork that’s sold."


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Institutions That Deaccession Find Themselves on the Defensive

Another article on deaccessioning and its pitfalls from the paper of record. Nothing new to be exact, but Donn is, once again, distressed by the anti-deaccessioning hypocrisy.
If it's okay (or more than okay: healthy, normal, to be encouraged) for the Art Institute of Chicago to sell those Picassos, Matisses, and Braques in order to buy yet more art, then it's got be okay to sell the same works for other worthy purposes, right? Right?


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rosenbach Museum to Deaccession Paintings: Proceeds to be Restricted to New Acquisitions

This will most certainly make the anti-deaccessioning police quite happy.

At its quarterly meeting on October 26, 2010, the Board of Trustees of the Rosenbach Museum & Library voted unanimously to deaccession thirteen paintings by the British artist Walter Greaves (1846-1930).

Where's the money going?

According to the Rosenbach's website,
Since 2003, the Rosenbach has had a policy in place that limits all proceeds from deaccessioning to new acquisitions. In other words, the Rosenbach never uses any portion of the monies for collections care, capital improvements, or other expenses. The Rosenbach is not a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which requires such a policy, but it chooses to identify with what it views as a higher standard promulgated by that organization.
Having learned from the Rose Art Museum witch hunt, the Rosenbach has hired a public relations firm to help in handling this situation. Who ever said free speech was dead?

You can read Rosenbach's Director Derick Dreher's entire press release here, available via the Philadelphia PR firm, Canary Promotion and Design.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art to Auction 32 Paintings at Sotheby's

Don't worry, according to, the AAMD has blessed it as totally legit.
Earnings from the Cleveland sale will be used to buy more old master paintings for the collection....[T]he Cleveland sale is unlikely to cause a ruckus. Most of the individual works to be sold are by minor masters; few have been exhibited in recent years.

The decision to sell the 32 paintings is not, overall, a negative comment on the museum's prior buying habits. More than three quarters of the works to be sold were gifts. Of the six bought by the museum, all are considered less than important, and two have been downgraded in their attributions, or authorship.
Regardless, something tells me the anti-deaccessioning police will be all over this.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

NYS Regents Name 16-member Advisory Committee on Deaccessioning

The New York State Board of Regents has named a 16-member ad hoc advisory committee on deaccessioning.

Judith H. Dobrzynski has a list of the committee members and more here.

Philadelphia History Museum Deaccessions for Renovations

The Philadelphia History Museum has deaccessioned over 2,000 items to pay for a face-lift.

According to NPR news, this has raised (surprise) an issue.

The Philadelphia History Museum says it only sold items that fell outside of its mission and that they've been careful to use the proceeds — nearly $3 million — to care for the collection.

"We're not paying for paint. We're not paying for lights. We're not paying for development salaries," Sand says. "We're paying to create an environment where we can now exhibit the premier collection of Philadelphia material culture."

More via NPR here.